Petrified Forest, The (1936)

The Petrified Forest (1936), directed by Archie Mayo.


I spent most of my time since I grew up in jail. Looks like I'll spend the rest of my life dead. -- Duke Mantee

When gentlemanly but disillusioned writer Leslie Howard hikes into an isolated desert diner, he encounters young Bette Davis, wasting away and dreaming of moving to France to be an artist. Transient love blooms like a desert flower, until destiny arrives in the form of desperado Humphrey Bogart and his gang. There will be blood.

I've never seen a bad performance from Leslie Howard and here he is excellent as the amused, failed intellectual who has given up on civilization, secretly wanting to die and admiring the savages taking over the world. The young woman is his redemption, a hope that she can live as he has failed to do.

Bogart is the savage with rough charm of his own. He calls ladies "Ma'am" when stealing their jewelry and won't let Gramps have a drink when told it is bad for him. And he too is in love. Sticking to his girl is what dooms him. And he knows it.

Adapted from a stage play, it runs pretty well on screen, talky of course and more or less bound to the diner. Howard and Bogart did the stage version and Howard refused to do the film without him. It became Bogart's breakout role. His walk -- like a trousered ape -- and the way he hangs his hands are eccentric; he said he modeled it on films of Dillinger.

Howard and Davis starred in Of Human Bondage (1934) two years earlier. She's still young enough to be on the edge of pretty, before she developed her "exotic" looks. Howard died when his plane was shot down in 1943, a great loss.

Unusually for the 1930s we have two black actors in good roles: one is the officious and semi-comical chauffeur, but the other is a serious member of the crime gang.

Filmed entirely on a soundstage, apart from a couple of desert terrain shots.

Available on Blu-ray. The old heavy-grained film source will not win any eye-candy awards, but this is an upgrade over the previous DVD: more detail, better black levels and less compression ringing.