Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Petrified Forest (1936)

The Petrified Forest
Director: Archie Mayo
USA 1936
82 min

Alan Squier (Leslie Howard), a disillusioned, witty British writer, passes by an isolated diner in the middle of the American desert. Ordering some food, he meets Gabrielle (Bette Davis), who works at the diner owned by her father. Alan and Gabrielle quickly falls for each other, realizing that they share the same dreams of escaping the reality of their current lives. A gas-pumping boy called Boze (Dick Foran) is unfortunately also in love with Gabrielle, and the tension between the persons in the drama becomes even more tense when they all become hostages for a criminal on the loose and his gang - Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart).
Along with the other hostages are a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Chisholm (Paul Harvey and Genevieve Tobin), their driver and the excited veteran Gramp Maple (Charley Grapewin), Gabrielle's grandfather.

This film covers a lot of genres. I don't know whether it is a drama, romance, comedy or an action. But I do know that it is an entertaining film with great actors. Leslie Howard's character must be one of the most interesting in his career, combining witticism and love making with an underlying sorrow and unsatisfaction with life. And Bette Davis is, as always, lovely.
Two supporting characters I liked is of course the almost-senile grandfather, excited by the thought that he might see another killing since Billy the Kid's era, and Mrs. Chisholm, the unsatistfied, frustrated and sad glamour wife. The scene were she tells Gabrielle about making sacrifices for other people and the result of not thinking about oneself is really great.

The arrival of the hoodlums - Duke Mantee and gang.

This was also the magnificent breakthrough for Humphrey Bogart as an actor. He and Howard had played The Petrified Forest on stage, and when Warner Brothers wanted a film adaption of the play they wanted gangster film legend Edward G. Robinson for the part of Duke Mantee. Howard, however, refused to star in the film if Bogart wasn't cast as the villain. The Warner Brother's didn't have much of a choice, casted Bogart in the film (which they later on would be very grateful for!), and Robinson was just happy not having to play aother type cast character.
Leslie Howard remained a long-time friend of Bogart and his wife Lauren Bacall, them naming their daughter Leslie in tribute to him.

Leslie Howard and Genevieve Tobin signing papers.

"Have a drink, black brother!"

Trailer: A wonderful trailer for the film, making a big deal of the re-uniting of Leslie Howard and Bette Davis after Of Human Bondage (1934).

The character of Duke Mantee was based on the real gangster "hero" (in that time the maffia was more or less glorified in the news and among the people) John Dillinger. Remember that I mentioned him earlier in my blog? Yes, the same John Dillinger that was shot to death after leaving a movie theatre showing Manhattan Melodrama the same year! My post on that film here.

Oh, and let's not forget the quotes. There are some wonderful to pick from this film!


Gramp Maple: But let me tell you one thing, Mr. Squier. The woman don't live or ever did live that's worth five thousand dollars!
Alan Squier: Well, let me tell you something. You're a forgetful old fool. Any woman's worth everything that any man has to give: anguish, ecstasy, faith, jealousy, love, hatred, life or death. Don't you see that's the whole excuse for our existence? It's what makes the whole thing possible and tolerable.

Alan Squier: The trouble with me, Gabrielle, is I, I belong to a vanishing race. I'm one of the intellectuals.
Gabrielle Maple: That, that means you've got brains!
Alan Squier: Hmmm. Yes. Brains without purpose. Noise without sound, shape without substance.

Alan Squier: Let there be killing. All this evening I've had a feeling of destiny closing in.

Alan Squier: What's your story, Duke? What's your life been like?
Duke Mantee: You know the story. Most of my life in jail; the rest of it dead!

Duke Mantee: Maybe you're right, pal.
Alan Squier: Oh, I'm eternally right. But what good does it do me?

Gabrielle Maple: Petrified forest is a lot of dead trees in the desert that have turned to stone. Here's a good specimen.
Alan Squier: So that was once a tree? Hmmm. Petrified forest, eh? Suitable haven for me. Well, perhaps that's what I'm destined to become, an interesting fossil for future study.

And I'm ending this post with a kiss. Like I always should.


Christopher said...

I love Leslie Howard's poetic character with a death Wish,backpacking across country under the twinkling stars..
I worked on a theatrical production of this several years ago.We had Greg Morris(the black actor from the old Mission Impossible tv show playing Duke Mantee)..and also another ,later theatrical play that was sort of an updated re-do of Petrified Forest,called When You Coming Back Red Ryder..Theres also an earlier Warner's film from 1934 called Heat Lightening that is similar to Petrified Forest...
trailer from film version of When You Coming Back Red Ryder

Lolita said...

The film is awesome. It must have been a real challenge to do a re-make of it! The link didn't work, but I found the trailer anyhow. Was it the one from 1979? That was a real toughed up version, I must say! I hope that I will work in the film industry in the future...

Elizabeth said...

Gosh, it has so many of my favorite actors in it, I should go watch it!

Great post by the way!

Christopher said...

yeah..the '79 film with Marjoe as Teddy,kind of a Manson-like psycho that plays mind games with the Cafe customers.The guy that played Teddy in the stage production I worked on was so mean,that a lady in the audience got up one night and threw her shoe at him..hit him in the back!lol
Petrified Forest is one of the great Warners classics..everyone should have a looksie..Even if it is stage bound,theres great performances all around and food for thought..

Lolita said...

That combination of actors can't go wrong, eh? ;) Thank you for the compliment!

Haha, that's hilarious! Fascinating that someone could identify with the drama to that degree... haha.
Oh, I love these kind of dramas that takes place in one location. I don't know if there's a good term for that in English, but in Sweden we call it chamber dramas (kammardrama), like "12 Angry Men". Not that Petrified Forest fits into that category completely, but you get the idea!
My point was that if you succeed making a film where the action only takes place in the tension between the characters (like in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, that I made a post on some weeks ago), then you are a genius, and the actors sublime.

Christopher said...

I like the way they "mess" with the Dick Foran character in"Listen to the Haaaalfback"..

patrick lordoew said...

This is available on DVD I found the listings below they look ok. Thanks