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BY Steven D. Greydanus
Of Mice and Men (1992) - Pick
Henry V (1989 - Pick
Moby Dick (1956) - Pick
Inherit the Wind (1960) - Pass
Les Misérables (1952) – Pass
Cliffs Notes Ultimate Study Editions? Yes, this week MGM and
Fox Home Entertainment re-release a passel of movie adaptations packaged with
the corresponding Cliffs Notes “study guides” for the original works, and
branded with the familiar black-and-yellow stripes.
According to a studio press release, the new line is
intended to “support studies,” though of course Cliffs Notes are widely used to
avoid studying the original works. This new line of DVD editions seems more a
marketing device than anything, particularly since most of the movies are
already available on DVD. But, if you’re curious how the movie departs from the
original work, the Cliffs Notes could provide a convenient reference point. Or
you could skip the Cliffs Notes, watch the films and read the original works.
Few of the films are the sole adaptations of their source
material, and the choice of editions was dictated not by critical or popular
acclaim but by availability to the studios.
Among the most worth seeing — and the most faithfully
adapted — are the 1992 Of Mice and Men,
with John Malkovich as Lennie and director Gary Sinise as George, and the 1989 Henry V, directed by and starring
Compared to the classic 1939 version, the newer Of Mice and
Men is a franker and more straightforward adaptation of Steinbeck’s
Depression-era classic, highlighted by outstanding performances from Sinise and
Screenwriter Horton Foote makes some changes but captures
the tone and spirit of the tragic story of two migrant ranch workers in
California whose hopes of settling down in comfort are dashed by cruel
Branagh’s Henry V, his directorial debut, successfully
overcomes both the familiarity of the source material and the long shadow of
the classic 1944 version directed by and starring Laurence Olivier. Though
Branagh’s brilliant performance, culminating in his indelible delivery of the
famous Agincourt call to arms, is the film’s blazing center, the drama benefits
enormously from a stellar cast including Robbie Coltrane as Falstaff, Ian Holm
as Fluellen, Judi Dench as Mistress Quickly and Paul Scofield as Charles VI of
Though not in the same league, John Huston’s rousing,
ambitious 1956 Moby Dick is
definitely worth seeing for its seafaring action scenes and an excellent cast
arguably marred only by star Gregory Peck, widely felt to be miscast as Ahab.
(One critic suggests that Peck was “not demented enough” for the role, which
might better have gone to costar Orson Welles, who plays Father Mapple here but
played Ahab on the stage. Ironically, Peck himself went on to play Mapple in
the 1998 TV miniseries version starring Patrick Stewart as Ahab.)
Other “Cliffs Notes” DVDs can be passed on, including the
1960 Inherit the Wind and the 1952 Les Misérables. The first is
troublingly anti-Christian, stereotyping believers as narrow-minded bigots; the
latter, despite a positive Catholic milieu, is ineffective.
Of Mice and Men:
Some graphic violence; crude language. Might be okay for teens. Henry V: Intense, graphic battlefield
violence; a hanging. Moby Dick:
Stylized violence; okay for kids. Inherit
the Wind: Prejudicial depiction of faith-versus-science conflict. Might be
okay for discerning teens. Les
Miserables: Restrained portrayals of hardship and violence; a suicide.
Teens and up.