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Lame-brained but good-natured Lennie (Lon Chaney jr) and his cousin and
best friend George (Burgess Meredith) are two farmhands in Depression era
rural America who drift from town to town to get jobs, which they have to
change wuite often because Lennie, due to his brute strength he has never
learned to control, repeatedly gets into trouble.
This time around, they get a job at Jackson's (Oscar O'Shea) farm, and
everything seems to be just fine and dandy for a while ... if it wasn't
for Jackson's son Curley (Bob Steele), who, rather short in height, hates
big guys like Lennie, and he does everything to provoke Lennie into
fighting him ... but fortunately, George has Lennie under control,
preventing him from doing anything stupid - and so they have a relatively
good life at Jackson's farm, and before long, they decide to set up their
own farm from the money they have earned and the money oldtimer Candy
(Roman Bohnen) throws in to be a part of their venture ...
Problem is, Curley has a wife, Mae (Betty Field), and he doesn't know
how to treat her right but is overly jealous - which spells trouble,
especially since Mae tries to be friendly with the workers, much to
Curley's dismay. Eventually, Curley beats up Lennie in a fit of jealousy,
but Lennie doesn't fight back - until George tells him to at least defend
himself, at which point Lennie squashes Curley's fist. With the help of
their co-workers though, George and Lennie force Curley to hush up the
incident and lie about his squashed hand - but now Curley is more
determined than ever to get back at Lennie ...
Eventually, Lennie and Mae meet in the barn, and Mae starts to chat up
Lennie - which soon leads to desaster when Lennie, not able to control his
strength, accidently kills Mae. Realizing what he's done, he runs away.
George, finding Mae's body, immediately realizes what had happened, but he
can't hush a thing that big up anymore, and before you know it, Curley has
formed a posse to search and kill Lennie.
Reluctantly, George realizes he can't save Lennie this time, so he
searches and finds him before the posse does, and while making him
promises and in tears, he shoots Lennie dead ...
Quite simply put, this is a great John Steinbeck-adaptation: The
storytelling is swift without being superficial and there is never a dull
moment, the direction is elegant without being glossy or overly gritty,
all characters are beautifully fleshed out (just like they are supposed to
be in a Steinbeck-adaptation, and the actors are uniformly great,
especially Lon Chaney jr, making the role of the dumb-headed but
good-natured brute his own, Burgess Meredtith playing his level-headed
counterpart, and Bob Steele, by then a respected hero of B-Westerns, being
cast totally against type as cowardly guy with an inferiority complex, and
handling the role as if he never did anything else ...