Is the length of Of Mice and Men suited to a close adaptation, or must the novel be largely cut to fit the film format?
- Note basically what I am trying to say is should the film maker focus on the main parts of the book without filling in the gaps, or should the film maker limit the movie to just part of the novel?
~Thanks in advance!
As you can see in the eNotes Study Guide for Of Mice and Men, Steinbeck collaborated with George Kaufman to turn his novelette into a stage play. Since the play came out in 1937, the same year the book was published, it is obvious that Steinbeck must have written the book with the expectation of adapting it to the stage already in his thoughts.
With the success of the novel, Steinbeck worked on a stage version with playwright George Kaufman, who directed the play. Of Mice and Men opened on Broadway in New York City on November 23, 1937, with Wallace Ford as George and Broderick Crawford as Lennie. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive, and the play ran for 207 performances, winning the prestigious New York Drama Critics' Circle Award.
This would explain many things about the book, including the fact that it is so short. It is just long enough to make a play, and consequently it is long enough to make into a movie. The big difference between the play and the movie versions is that the motion picture medium allows the filmmaker to "open up" the visual elements. In both film versions the opening up has consisted largely of showing big outdoor scenes of men and horses working in the vast California fields with the beautiful mountains in the background.
It should be noted that Steinbeck's novelette reads somewhat like a treatment for a play or movie. He conveys most exposition in the form of dialogue rather prose, as is usually done in novels. For example, when George and Lennie are camping by the river in chapter one, George scolds Lennie:
"Jus' wanted to feel that girl's dress--jus' wanted to pet it like it was a mouse-- Well, how the hell did she know you jus' wanted to feel her dress? She jerks back and you hold on like it was a mouse. She yells and we got to hide in a irrigation ditch all day with guys lookin' for us, and we got to sneak out in the dark and get outta the country."
Virtually all the exposition is handled as dialogue, making it very easy to change the book into a play or a motion picture. When we watch a play or movie, we get virtually all our information from what the characters say to each other. The main thing that is conspicuous by its absence in the book is descriptions of the work these men do in the fields, although that is the main purpose of their lives and the main theme of the story. Steinbeck did not describe outdoor activity because he knew it could not be shown on a stage (although it could easily be shown in a motion picture). The scenes at the beginning and end could be simulated on a dark stage with a fake campfire. Instead of showing horses, Steinbeck mentions the sounds of horses stomping and jingling harnesses. Instead of showing men pitching horseshoes, Steinbeck mentions the sounds of horseshoes thudding and making ringers. Instead of showing George shooting Candy's dog, Steinbeck simply notes the sound of a shot offstage. The play only required a couple of inexpensive sets--a bunkhouse and a stable.
The filmmaker should take advantage of the greater freedom allowed by the motion picture camera to show more of the outdoors. This is done very effectively in the recent film version starring John Malkovich. There are spectacular shots of big teams of horses, with many men working at "bucking barley" in the hot sun.
But other than "opening up" the story a little, the filmmaker can follow the novelette closely, just as was done in the stage play.