The Petrified Forest


Year 1936

Leslie Howard as  Alan Squier
Bette Davis as Gabrielle Maple
Humphrey Bogart   as Duke Mantee
Charley Grapewin as Gramp Maple
Paul Harvey as Mr. Chisholm
 
Director - Archie Mayo
Screenwriters - Charles Kenyon
  - Delmer Daves
Playwright - Robert E. Sherwood  

This movie is one more rung on the ladder of Bogart's success and represents the first time he ascended from being an extra to being a costar. He had a few years of dues to pay yet before becoming a leading man, but this movie shows how his climb to the top was inevitable.

This is a movie based on a play, so you only get a few locations. Basically, all of the action takes place within a small restaurant/gas station in the middle of nowhere in northern Arizona. Probably it's in the middle of the petrified forest.

It's a contrived morality play. Flawed characters interact. There's the rich man with the unappeasable wife, the disillusioned writer, the country girl longing for life away from the desert small town, the old man who yearns for his youth, and the escaped criminal with his own standards of right and wrong. It's all very sophomoric. Everyone is supposedly neither good nor bad. It might work if someone was actually good or someone was actually bad. Instead, everyone is sort of blasť.

The twenty-eight year old Bette Davis trying to act the part of a teenager coming of age is, to say the least, unconvincing. Judy Garland was more believable as Dorothy.

Anyway, before I start with what's wrong with the movie, let's start with what's right. First there's the star Leslie Howard. Ever soft spoken and urbane, Howard made a career out of playing nice guys who often finish last in order to be honorable. He was a good actor, there's no debating that. But he's not very exciting.

Alan Squier (Howard) has a job to do, whether he knows it or not. That job is to save Gabrielle Maple (Davis) from a life of boredom. Anything, even death, is better than a life of boredom. Squier makes sure that Maple understands this.

Then there's Duke Mantee (Bogart). Without this escaped felon, the movie is a snooze fest. Even with Mantee, it's fairly slow going. When I think of a situation where people are held hostage in a diner by a killer, I think tension. Not here. Here it's a group therapy session where people say things they don't really mean in order to keep up appearances. There's no ripping away of the masks of personality. There is simply an exchange of personas.

Like I mentioned, it's rather sophomoric and self-indulgent on the part of the writer, I'm assuming it's the playwright. When Squier, who also happens to be a writer, says things like, "I belong to a vanishing race. I'm one of the intellectuals," and, "Oh, I'm eternally right. But what good does it do me?" then you know you're in for sermonizing from an author who considers himself superior to the rest of us mortals but misunderstood.

At least there's always Bogey. Look at that hair. And he holds his hands at waist level with his wrists close in. Bogart thought that a guy who'd spent a long time in chains might adopt that posture even after the chains had been removed. It's a testament to Bogart's attention to detail.

Bogart nearly steals this movie from the leads. But it would only have been petty theft.

I'd recommend it for watching Bogart begin to come into his own. Otherwise, it's too contrived and slow moving to be worthwhile.


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