Film Critique – Prior to 1970

Of Mice and Men, written by John Steinbeck, is the tragic story of George Milton and Lenny Small, two ranch workers who are just trying to get by. They migrate from farm to farm, George taking care of Lenny, a very large and mentally disabled man, during the years of the depression. Both of the dream of better lives and one day hopefully owning their own ranch. They find a ranch in California and settle down, where a series of antics follows that cause Lenny to crush the ranch man’s sons hand,  killed a puppy, and ultimately Curley’s wife. Though none of this is actually Lenny’s faults as he is not aware of his own strengths or the deeds that he did, George still ends up putting down Lenny in the end and moving on with his life.

I had read the book in high school and had fallen in love with the sad tale, but I had never seen the movie and thought that this would be a good opportunity to see the style they chose to go with and if they stayed true to the book. Being from 1939 the entire movie is in black and white, but because of this many parts of the movie came out really dark. I’m not sure if it was actually the quality level that I was watching, I watched the whole thing on YouTube, but everything kind of blended into a dark background, with things in the background indistinct from anything else. Bright, outside scenes were easier on the eyes, but anything that required a dark background or backdrop caused this issue.

In most scenes there are hard shadows cast across the face, indicating to me that there was, in many cases, only one or two light sources on the actors, and only from one direction. They did not try to balance the light to make the faces more clear, but instead focused on a much more natural like look. If its dark outside, well the scene is going to look like its actually dark outside. The dark shadow becomes even more apparent in scenes featured inside where a harsh black outline is cast against the walls of the character, overall unrealistic compared to the natural light available, and it makes me feel again that there really only one light cast upon the actor to brighten up again. For scenes that are outside on the ranch I don’t think any lighting or barely any lighting was used at all, though I really might not be able to tell with how dark the movie is overall. But outside scenes rely heavily on the bright sunlight from outside that casts is shadows and lights up the cast.

Confusing lighting outside for a film shot before 1940 I thought it was really well done. The scenes looked real and pretty and authentic, the acting was awesome, and I still cried at the end of it like I did when I read the book. I was highly recommend this version, and I would be interested in doing a comparison with the 1992 version of this film.


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