THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936) B/W 82m dir: Archie Mayo
w/Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Genevieve Tobin, Dick Foran, Joe Sawyer, Porter Hall, Charley Grapewin, Paul Harvey, Eddie Acuff, Adrian Morris, Nina Campana, Slim Thompson, John Alexander, Henry O'Neill, Addison Richards
From The Movie Guide: "This screen version of Robert E. Sherwood's smash play is handled with great care by director Archie Mayo and a sterling cast. This was the film that catapulted Humphrey Bogart to fame, but without Leslie Howard's insistence on Bogart for the part of Duke Mantee, Bogart might never have gotten his big movie break.
"This film is really about the confrontation between intellectualism and brute force. Howard, an idealistic writer and world traveler who has grown weary of life's cruelties, finds himself penniless and hitchhiking through the Arizona desert. As he passes the renowned Petrified Forest it occurs to him that he is like it, an ossified relic of the past. Stopping at a dilapidated service station restaurant run by grumpy Porter Hall, Howard meets and falls in love with poet Bette Davis, Hall's daughter. She dreams of studying in Paris. Dick Foran, a college halfback who pumps gas for Hall, is in love with Davis, and therefore jealous of Howard; but Howard assures him he has little to worry about. When a rich couple, Paul Harvey and Genevieve Tobin, arrive at the station, Davis persuades them to take Howard along with them to California. After Howard departs, Hall, Davis, Foran, and Charley Grapewin, Hall's ancient father, hear on the radio that the ruthless gangster Duke Mantee and his henchmen, on the run after committing murders in Oklahoma, are headed into Arizona ...
"Howard was born for the role of the fatalistic lover and lapsed idealist of THE PETRIFIED FOREST. He had played it to the hilt on Broadway, as did Bogart with the Mantee role in the 1935 stage play. But when it came to casting the film, Jack Warner wanted no part of Bogart, who had appeared in small roles in B films some years earlier. He selected Edward G. Robinson to play Duke Mantee. When Howard heard this, he went to Warner, telling him that if Bogart did not get the role of the gangster, he (Howard) would drop out of the picture. Warner needed Howard, so he cast Bogart, who went on to become one of the studio's greatest stars. Bogart's gangster was clearly based on Public Enemy No. 1, John Dillinger (as was Sherwood's original character). Coincidentally, Bogart closely resembled Dillinger, and after studying films of the gangster to perfect his mannerisms, he was a sensation. Yet the Duke Mantee role was also a curse, typecasting Bogart in years to come in the ruthless gangster mold, until 1941 when he appeared as a sympathetic gangster in HIGH SIERRA and, in the same year, as Sam Spade in THE MALTESE FALCON. Davis, too, is outstanding as the culture-hungry girl who yearns to escape the desert and the ominous Petrified Forest. The success of this film would soon land her meatier roles. The film was remade as ESCAPE IN THE DESERT. In 1955, Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Henry Fonda would reenact the original play in an excellent television production."
From the website A March Through Film History (www.ryanmccormickfilmhistory.blogspot.com), this 2012 review of the film:
"Leslie Howard and Bette Davis, two wonderful actors of the mid 1930s and fellow co-stars in Of Human Bondage are reunited in film about love, passion for life, and death entitled The Petrified Forest. A story about two people simply passing each other in life, both of whom are lost souls searching for something better, are put in an unpredictable circumstance and discover what their destinies are. From this cast rises a new actor to the big screen, but unlike the actors of the past he seems to carry with him a skill to add emotional demons that haunt his eyes to the very being of the character he is playing. Here his is, a no-name, but Humphrey Bogart would be given his first major chance in the movies, and makes the most of it as the ruthless mobster that holds up a small diner, including our unlikely couple, allowing for a relationship to come to fruition in a tragic love story.
"The Petrified Forest is a drama of a wandering man that finds his purpose in life while traveling through the most unlikely of places, the Arizona desert, where he meets an intriguing young local lady how seeks greater things in the world, until they are held up together by an infamous mobster in her diner. Leslie Howard plays Alan Squier, a failed English writer on a soul journey of sorts as a hitch-hikes through desert of Arizona. Here he meets Gabriella (Bette Davis), a local girl that helps her father run a gas station/diner on the furthest edge of civilization. In their quick meeting she learns of his creative past, while he learns of her aspirations as an artist, but due to family and lack of funds she is held down.
"Both characters are intrigued with each other, and when notorious killer Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) holds up the diner with our couple inside, we discover just how much these two mean to each other. Alan wants to help Gabriella, but knows that he would only further hold her back, breaking her heart in rejection. In a moment of deep-seeded emotion Alan writes Gabriella’s name on his life insurance policy and asks for Mantee to shoot him when he leaves, leaving her as a last will and testament that she take the $5000 policy payout and go peruse her dream in Europe as an artist, as she dreamed. ...
"This is one of the simply good films that come up and surprise you when you see it. The Petrified Forest is a story that takes place, for the most part, in one location, rarely leaving the diner, where Alan and Gabriella meet and converse, live through Mantee’s actions ... The film is dialogue driven, a clear giveaway it was based on a stage play, but hardly matters as it pulls you in as you watch this relationship blossom over the actions of a short day. Both characters start out down and lost in a big empty world, as shown by the barren setting of the Arizona desert, but by the end both find purpose in the world, even through tragedy. It is a touching love story, mixed with clever humor, and even a villain of sorts that pulls you into the his own story as a troubled man with a haunted mind played very well by a young Bogart. It is a fine story with fine cinematic qualities, a movie which gives you more than you expect.
"The title The Petrified Forest has little to do with the actual story. It is used as an allegory of Alan’s life as a man searching for purpose and a lasting impact in the world instead of being just a simple fossil lost in the wilderness, like the fossilized piece of wood shown to Alan from the nearby petrified forest by Gabriella.
"Directed by Archie Mayo, this picture shares his stylistic qualities that made him an intriguing filmmaker, despite his small number of credits. Already set in a fascinating setting, the desert in the wake of a coming sandstorm, Mayo finds a way to keep you interested in the small confines of a roadside diner/gas station. He keeps his actors rough, unshaven and sweating, giving a real world quality in their characteristics that make them all appealing, with promise and flaws included. His angles and depth, including shooting scenes with various characters watching in the background out of focus, creates a near painting with his beautiful compositions. His framing and editing make for a high quality motion picture.
"The film was based around star Leslie Howard, original leading man of the stage play, and big name on screen as well as for his stage work. Bette Davis was the interesting actress that rose up as his co-star in Of Human Bondage in a role so unflattering, and played so well, she would make a quick name for herself. Bogart was the original actor from the stage play as well, playing the bothered killer, Mantee. A failed screen actor of the recent past, Bogart had to find his work on stage to get by in his art. When the film was picked up for production producers wanted to put a bigger name in the role, most notably Edward G. Robinson being pursued by the studio. Leslie Howard protested that the role had to go to Bogart and no one else with the producers relenting to the star’s demands. Bogart’s performance was a study of the characteristics he found in the late John Dillinger, a famous mobster of the early 1930s, once public enemy #1 for the FBI, including the copying of his mannerisms and even his walk. His performance made for such a haunted character that he would quickly be noticed, thus starting the successful career for the actor in Hollywood. Bogart was forever be indebted to Howard for the start, never forgetting the man that got him the chance, even naming his daughter after him.
"This beautiful tragic story is one of those stunning tales of motion picture history. It is not necessarily as known for its greatness as it is for Bogart’s beginning in stardom. Beyond that all the actors perform very well in the picture, and though with little of a plot you are taken to the very edge of your seat as you watch the people learn more of each other and themselves. It is a story of sacrifice, but its greatest sacrifice is that The Petrified Forest would be swallowed up by the greater films in the star's career, as this motion picture is a fine piece of cinema, but not as noted as Bogart’s great picture Casablanca. It makes for a great film buried within an age of great films. In my opinion it may be overlooked, but I little care for that subject, allowing me to discover the hidden gems of motion pictures past I have known little about makes watching all the more rewarding."