Movie Critique – The Petrified Forest

For review of all movies starring Humphrey Bogart, go here.

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: Filled with emotions, the viewers get immersed into the lives of these characters, routing for some, wanting to murder some, and laughing away the troubles with some. 

The Petrified Forest in a 1936 American drama film based on Robert Emmet Sherwood's 1935 Broadway show of the same name. The movie is set in Petrified National Forest Park in Arizona, presuming that is where the name for the film and the show got.

The film stars Leslie Howard, Betty Davis and Humphrey Bogart in the lead roles. A film that is considered as a confrontation between intellectual mind and brute strength.

Howard plays the role of a failed, penniless, idealistic British writer, Alan Squier, who finds himself falling for the waitress, Gabrielle Maple (portrayed by Bette Davis), of a gas station café in Arizona desert, who has her own dreams of going to France and become an artist. Unfortunately Duke Mantee (portrayed by Humphrey Bogart) and his criminal gang find their way to the same café. Now it becomes a battle of intellectual wits of Howard and brute strength of Bogart to survive the hostage situation.

The Broadway show had given the first theatrical role for Humphrey Bogart as Duke Mantee. The character Duke Mantee was created by Sherwood based on John Dillinger. And Bogart partly got the role for his resemblance to Dillinger; and he also mimicked Dillinger in his action on stage.

When the show became a movie, Leslie Howard insisted for Bogart to be his co-star in the film as well. Bogart doesn’t come into scene until the second half of the film, but he did make a mark on the audience. The film made Bogart an instant star and he never looked back since then. For which Bogart had been indebted to Howard all his life, even naming his daughter with Lauren Bacall as Leslie Howard Bogart in Howard's honor.

Bogart is hailed as "The most terrifying character since the Cagney of Public Enemy" in the trailer of the film. While Howard and Davis were hailed as "The Re-uniting of The Stars Who Electrified The Screen World". 

Although Alan in the film toasts Duke, Bogart's character, as "the last great apostle of rugged individualism". And that still holds true for Bogart even after so many decades and so many stars. 

The entire plot is set in 24 hrs time in which the stars face love, adventure, horror, redemption and in the end escape. The three men in Gabrielle's life - Alan, Boze and Mantee - change her path unknowingly in their own way - one sacrifices, one fights and one has no moral compass in using her charming nature to his advantage. 

Chisholms marriage sufferings, Maples' struggles to survive, Squier's self deprecation, and even Mantee's cynicism - all the various emotions that go through churns the viewers. As Squire mentions, it almost seems each and every character sets on to recite their autobiography in one way or the other. 

Pretty high-penny stars were seen in the film along-side Bogart other than Howard and Davis. One of them being Porter Hall portraying the role of Jason Maple, owner of the gas station café. I remember him from the 1935 Perry Mason film The Case of the Lucky Legs, from 1940 romantic comedy His Girl Friday (My review here), and 1947 Miracle on 34th Street.

Despite the stardom Bogart got with this film, he had been type cast to bad guys until he had a breakthrough with 1941 The Maltese Falcon in which he portrays the role of Detective Sam Spade and 1942 romantic classic Casablanca (My review here) in which he portrays the role of cynical nightclub owner Rick Blaine. These two movies pushed him into leading roles and billed top-dollar for a lot of years thereafter.

Director Archie L. Mayo filmed an alternate happy ending to the film as well. However when the trade reviewers liked the original sad ending, he released the film in the original format. Indeed the ending is perfect and yet heart wrenching. 

The movie had been adapted to Radio in 1937 and 1945 by CBS's Lux Radio Theater. It has been used for a satirical version in the 1993 episode of Murder, She Wrote, TV show, that has the same name as the film. There were several more radio and television adaptations since then; and has also been used in reference in several tv shows, films and music world as mentioned here

Although initially given a negative review, the film went on to be recognized in the 2003 AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains, with Duke Matinee appearing as a nominated villain. 

Filled with emotions, the viewers get immersed into the lives of these characters, routing for some, wanting to murder some, and laughing away the troubles with some. A rather sad ending making viewers to shed tears, even though there are laughs and love woven in. 

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Plot Reveals:

a. Notice that Humphrey Bogart isn't listed as the top character considering this being his first full film role.

b. The Warner Brothers set used for the gas station and most part of the movie is now Conan O'Brien's TBS television program. 

2) Sub-Plots:

a. The poetry book that Gabrielle is shown reading in the beginning of the film is titled The Poetry of Francois Villon . She reads the Ballad Written for a Bridegroom from the book to Alan later while he is having his lunch. 

b. Apachee Beer is prominently featured in the film. Discontinued since 1943, this Phoenix-based Arizona Brewing Company's beer items have become rare collectibles now.

c. One of the props that the director uses is the headdress of a Native American medicine man resembling the horned head of an American buffalo. For most of the head shots of Bogart, he had his face in the center of the headdress in the backdrop, giving Bogart sprouting horns from his head. A comical twist to the hard-nosed Mantee, I say.

3) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. One of the characters Boze Hertzlinger (portrayed by Dick Foran), flirts with Davis's character Gabrielle in the beginning of the film. He says he is not married, but clearly a wedding band is seen on his hand. 

b. Knowing that Alan is a writer, Gabrielle changes her outfit and comes out to sit with him at his table to talk. In one scene we can clearly see the price tag of the dress on her right pocket, and immediately in the slightly close-up shot after it is gone. And again it reappears in the subsequent scene.

c. In one scene, Alan says that he was born in 1901, which would make him 35 when the movie was released. However, in an earlier scene he mentioned that he married at 22 and was married for eight years and had just left his wife, which would make him 30.


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