The Petrified Forest (1936)
Tuesday, May 21st
A gas station in the remote Petrified Forest is taken over by gangsters; its hostages are pushed to reveal their true nature as the story plays out. Alan Squire (Leslie Howard) is a traveling intellectual who wanders into the restaurant. He meets Gabrielle Maple (Bette Davis), a painter and dreamer; she is stuck working at the gas station until her grandfather dies. Her mother had left Gabrielle and her father years ago to return to France. Gabrielle dreams of the world outside of the gas station, meeting Alan she feels close to her dreams. Alan leaves the gas station, but fate in the form of gangster Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) brings him back. When Gabrielle thinks her life has returned to its usual routine, fate in the shape of Duke Mantee brings Allan back to the restaurant.
Warner Brothers originally initially signed Leslie Howard to star in the film version of the Broadway play. It was Leslie Howard who insisted that Humphrey Bogart be hired to reprise he role of Duke Mantee. His performance in The Petrified Forest would be Bogart’s first big success in Hollywood. Years later, after Howard’s death in a plane crash in World War II, Humphrey Bogart and his wife Lauren Bacall would name their daughter Leslie. This film would be the second time in two years that Leslie Howard and Bette Davis would be paired together, their first film being Of Human Bondage (1934). Do not expect to see the same type of performance in this film, especially from Davis.
Gabrielle’s grandfather played by Charley Grapewin, claim to fame is that he had been shot at by Billy the Kid. Today he is engrossed by the story of Duke Mantee. Gangsters during the 1920’s and 30’s where often romanticized by the press and often cheered by the poor. They were often the anti-hero. After having everything taken from them, they work hard to steal to only be gunned down by the law. Back in his day, Billy the Kid had similar fame which has helped to make him well-known. The character of Duke Mantee is based directly from John Dillinger. Bogart would watch footage of Dillinger to prepare for his performance. Dillinger was gunned down outside of a movie theater only two years before this film was made.
Each person that ends up at the gas station is searching for more in life. Gabrielle dreams of a future away from the gas station so she can pursue her art. Alan is roaming the world searching for inspiration and meaning in life. Boze Hertzlinger (Dick Foran) is the ex all-American football star, who needs to discover life outside of collage and off the field. Mrs. Chisholm (Genevieve Tobin) has had to make concessions in her life in order to live a comfortable and rich life with her husband. Duke Mantee is looking to get what he wants through violence and guns. He ends up at the gas station to wait for a woman (he never talks about), who it is assumed that she has gone to the authorities to sell him out.
This film does have a stage feel in keeping with its Broadway roots. Majority of the action takes place inside the restaurant of the gas station. Also there is no hiding the painted backdrops, but it is interesting when you consider the dust blowing and tumbleweeds rolling across a sound stage.
The Petrified Forest is part of films devoted to Tough Guys Tuesdays in May, click on the link below for more information:
Little Caesar (1930) 8:00PM (ET) with Edward G. Robinson
The Petrified Forest (1936) 9:30PM (ET) with Humphrey Bogart
Le Jour Se Leve (1939) 11:00PM (ET) with Jean Gabin
White Heat (1949) 12:45AM (ET) with James Cagney
Images from: The Petrified Forest. Dir. Archie Mayo. Warner Bros., 1936. DVD.
Tagged: Bette Davis, Charley Grapewin, Dick Foran, Genevieve Tobin, Humphrey Bogart, John Dillinger, Le Jour Se Leve, Leslie Howard, Little Caesar, Of Human Bondage (1934), TCM, TCM Tough Guys, The Petrified Forest, Turner Classic Movies, Warner Bros, Warner Bros. Pictures, Warner Bros. Studios, Warner Brothers, White Heat