what they said: stanley kubrick

of mice and men (lewis milestone, 1939)

Lon Chaney Jr. had a long career, and people of my generation are fond of him for his numerous appearances in Universal horror films. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid, and Chaney is very good there. Chaney was in his early thirties when he made Of Mice and Men, and the part of Lennie, which he had played on stage, seemed to fit him like a glove. But when he first played The Wolf Man two years later, he was typecast for life, and I don't know that he ever got the respect as an actor that someone like Boris Karloff did. And, of course, he had to deal with the fact that his father, Lon Chaney, was a colossus of silent film.

The film Of Mice and Men feels a bit stagy, even though we think of it today as the first film based on a John Steinbeck work. I suspect the stage version was in the film makers' mind. It doesn't matter ... the performances carry the film, and Aaron Copland's score, his first, helps as well. Essentially, Of Mice and Men is a buddy story, and it still works on that level.

Chaney is great, but don't sleep on Burgess Meredith, who also delivers. Like Chaney, Meredith connects with boomers on nostalgic grounds ... we know him as The Penguin from the Batman TV series from the 60s. And in the 70s, he was Rocky Balboa's trainer in several movies.

Chaney may be doubly cursed, though. His performance as Lennie became a part of popular culture because of its frequent use in cartoons. It's another nostalgic moment for boomers, for which one of us hasn't at some point asked, "Which way did he go, George?"



I never knew those toon characterizations were a reference to this movie! One of the cool things about being raised on them for my gen is that it gives us a strange connection to 30s and 40s references without knowing it.

Steven Rubio

One of the better essays I wrote, which ended up in an anthology, was inspired by a trip to England. We attended a "Proms", where an orchestra plays classics that lean towards the popular. I wrote:

And then, suddenly, my wife and I found ourselves enthralled, for the orchestra was playing what the conductor claimed was a selection from Barber of Seville. Our excitement had little or nothing to do with Rossini, and everything thing to do with our own, American, brand of nostalgia. For as the notes from Rossini cascaded down from the bandstand, both my wife and I were transported to the days of our childhood, to the Bugs Bunny cartoon, "Rabbit of Seville."

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