OF MICE AND MEN( 1992)
CAST: GARY SINISE, JOHN MALKOVICH, SHERILYN FERN, CASEY SIEMASZKO, JOE MORTON, RAY WALSTON.
DIRECTOR : GARY SINISE.
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ON 18TH MARCH, 2014.
The journey of the Joad family in THE GRAPES OF Wrath as being the cry of every migrant and immigrant populace and in the short story FLIGHT, unruly mechanics of gun culture and male bravado raising a private hell of its own for the young protagonist were sealed in my mind since I read them both in college. The lingering after effect was all courtesy the unembellished, terse style of writer JOHN STEINBECK, a voice of reason who had timeless tales of movement and humanity transcending eras and an arc from his contemporaneous 20th century to the new millennium and beyond. OF MICE AND MEN too is as germane today to the gypsy fabric of manual labourers as it was at the time of its setting and publication. So here I write about it.
John Steinbeck’s deified novella OF MICE AND MEN has a faithful screen adaptation in this 1992 MGM feature. Helmed by CSI’s laconic and intense Gary Sinise ( he also plays the lead George),who exemplifies both those traits beautifully given his arc in the story, its minimalistic to a fault.
The tug of bonhomous companionship traces the bond between two hobos – an industrious George and an innocuous, gentle giant Lennie ( an excellent John Malkovich) whose mental disability, as he’s specially abled, negates his intimidating, burly appearance to others. There was a time when the offensive term ‘retard’ was used to disparage individuals but great wisdom has dawned and so today we call them specially abled and Lennie proves here that despite being a child in a man’s body owing to his condition, he’s just as hard working as George. The greatest memory that I have and cherish from the film is how he repeatedly asks George about their joint dream about owning few acres of land and the charmed duty of raising rabbits will fall on Lennie’s part. It’s not for nothing I call Malkovich’s performance excellent. His innocence wins you over.
Here, both flow along to the choleric current of the Depression era in the 1930s and try to find their footing at a farm. Unlike Steinbeck’s landmark work The Grapes of Wrath, OF MICE AND MEN invites a sedate visual representation of the men’s personal travails and cuts down on the social commentary. But the details are everything so nothing is spelled out and yet we understand the sexual tension that exists in the air when the farm owner’s daughter in law ( Sherilyn Fern) makes her presence felt amongst this tribe of men and attempts to initiate a thaw within parameters of her extremely lonely life and distinguished title as ‘Curly’s wife’.
Curly( Casey Siemaszko) is her hot headed husband, an otherwise absentee figure for her who nurses complexes of his own owing to his average height. Both are excellent in their own individual casts of desperation and loneliness.
Ray Walston is in his prime too as Candy, the wise old man relegated to the shadows. In a scene where his ailing, aged pet dog is taken away to be shot, the rickety foundation for the aged and specially abled to be dispensed with especially in a pinched social and economic structure comes up subtly to arrest us. As Walston, a veteran performer, was born in 1914, he knew the era well and I felt this would have helped him in building his arc.
The land of humans and animals – of living beings- is severely compromised and Crooks ( another impressive veteran Joe Morton) is further in a dark hole of his own because of his racial identity.
Sinise beautifully realizes all these aspects and lets them linger for our own consideration. I could exhume these points of my own accord while watching it and that is the beauty of good storytelling.
The movie’s pace is fine tuned to the times and its setting, where each and everybody was essentially a solitary voyager. The real knell of tragedy is unexpected when it occurs and you must watch the film to know how exactly it transpires. Clouds of continuing melancholy and fate’s overhaul sound a sudden thunderclap that brings the tale’s optimistic tone down like a pack of cards. George has to then take a crucial decision regarding Lennie that weighs heavily on his morality and haunts us in the closing moments.
But the two men stay with us as does their short lived tryst with destiny, in desperate hours of revival and renewal. I exhort you to watch OF MICE AND MEN and read the original novella too. Humanity is brought to the fore in all its ebbs and lows here. The performances are what truly count here.