Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Petrified Forest (1936)

RATING: 8/10

The Petrified Forest breathed life into the-then sagging careers of Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis.

The mid-1930s was hardly a highpoint for either legendary performer, as the film's accompanying documentary, The Petrified Forest: Menace in the Desert, explains.


Bogart, 36, was running out of chances on the big screen after about a dozen roles, inluding appearances in Three on a Match and Midnight, did little to help his chances. Davis was also making little headway five years into a career that began with The Bad Sister in 1931.

Bogart appeared in the stage version of The Petrified Forest. Leading man Leslie Howard (Alan Squier) was adamant Bogie be cast in the film directed by Archie Mayo (Black Legion, A Night in Casablanca).

Howard's stubborness ignited Bogart's career. He'd go on to star in a string of classics including Key Largo, Casablanca and High Sierra. Midler's career would stretch for another 50-plus years ending with her final screen appearance in 1989.

Bogart's a treat to watch in this screen adaptation of Robert Sherwood's play. He's Duke Mantee, a feared gangster with a very bloody past. He's on the run from the law, and bound for Mexico, when he turns up at a restaurant and gas station in the desert.


The desolate business is owned by Jason Maple (Porter Hall), a First World War veteran who's chided by his father, Gramp Maple (Charley Grapewin), for serving behind the lines as a mechanic.

There's a lot of that disillusion in this 1936 drama. Squier is the intellectual who was supposed to be a great writer. He wrote one book and it sold dismally. His wife left him. Squier discovers the restaurant as he hitch-hikes across the United States.

Jason's daughter, Gabrielle, is itching to get back to France where she was born and her mother still lives. She wants to paint. While gas jockey Boze Hertzlinger (Dick Foran) tries to woo Gabrielle, she's more interested in Squier. A former college football star, Boze is far from the glory he enjoyed on the grid iron.

Mantee and his gang hijack a vehicle occupied by banker Mr. Chisholm (Paul Harvey) and his long-suffering wife (Genevieve Tobin). The gangster and his crew end up at Maple's restaurant during a sandstorm. Mr. Chisholm is more interested in business succession than his wife when the bullets eventually start flying.


Will they make it to Mexico ahead of the law? Will Boze and Alan square off over their affections for Gabrielle? Will she see her dream of a life in Europe come true?

The Petrified Forest offers viewers a strong cast and an early look at just how good Bogart and Davis are on the screen. Bogart is a menacing bad guy, speaking slowly and delivering most of his lines seated in a chair. He doesn't make his first appearance until about 30 minutes into the film, but he's riveting for The Petrified Forest's final hour.

More gangster roles would follow for Bogart, including The Roarding Twenties. This is where he started.

FUN FACTS: Director Mayo and Bogart teamed up for Black Legion in 1937. Foran was in that film too.

Genevieve Tobin's last film credit was No Time for Comedy in 1940. She married director William Keighley in 1938. They'd stay together until his death in 1984. Tobin died in 1995 at age 95.

Charley Grapewin was Uncle Henry in The Wizard of Oz and Grandpa in The Grapes of Wrath.

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