There I was sitting giggling to myself, waiting for this hilarious, frightened, petrified woodland to appear only to find out it was just a few rocks in the godforsaken desert. Of course I’m only having a laugh. I found The Petrified Forest a very intriguing title. I knew Humphrey Bogart had a standout role within the film but I wasn’t here this time for him. This viewing was for a certain actress called Bette Davis, which, sit down before I say this, I’d not seen any of her films! Please forgive me, I take myself off on a long walk as penance!
So this month I ventured into the crazy world of Bette Davis with the two frenzied performances of Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? Both were brilliantly entertaining and extremely deranged. Then by accident I stumbled across one that I didn’t realise she was in called The Scapegoat with Alec Guinness. It was more of a cameo but she managed to keep the shouty old bat role going well. After watching the delights of the so called horror hags I was determined to watch a younger, more mellow Bette. The Petrified Forest seemed the perfect place to start and I’d tick off another Bogie flick at the same time, winner winner chicken dinner.
With these two at the helm this was going to be ace, what I wasn’t expecting was some Brit guy going by the name Leslie Howard to step up and throw a curveball into the mix. Alan Squier (Leslie Howard) wanders through the dust and waste lands of the sun scorched desert. A wandering nomad alone, well apart from the occasional passing tumbleweed to say hello to. He keeps walking, is he lost? or trying to find a purpose in life? He’d been a writer, now unfortunately a penniless drifter. He’s left behind the Great Depression, maybe this future path will lead to meaning? He may look like a vagrant without a dollar to his name but our Alan is a deep thinking man. Ever the optimist, filled with charm.
His journey delivers him to the door of a remote roadside diner. Rest, food and drink and a chance meeting with a kindly dreamer, a young waitress called Gabrielle Maple (Bette Davis) a young girl with great imagination and aspirations. When Alan talks, Gabrielle listens, intrigued by this strange man. Alan is just as fascinated by Gabrielle. She is yearning to learn, to love and to grow. But what future will a life in a dust filled watering hole stuck within a bleak desolate town bring this inquisitive young lady?
Things will certainly get a bit more exciting, terrifying in fact. With the arrival of a gang of outlaws branding shotguns and inciting fear. Lead by the menacing hands of the fearsome gangster Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) a name to send shivers down your spine. With their vehicle filled with gunshot holes these tough men have escaped the law. Now holed up, they desperately need to recover and forge a new plan. What better place to recuperate than a small dead end roadside cafe.
A few things I’ve learnt.
- Directed by Archie Mayo from a successful Broadway play written by Robert E. Sherwood that also starred Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart.
- The story goes, the film studio wished to have more bankable star Edward G. Robinson play Duke Mantee rather than unknown Bogart. But Leslie Howard held the cards, he had control of the script in his contract and insisted Bogart carry on his performance. In doing so kicked started HB’s career. With a sweet end to the story when Bogart and Lauren Bacall named their daughter Leslie Howard Bogart. Brings a tear to your eye.
- Now comes the sad part of the story. Leslie Howard had suffered shell shock during the First World War and in a depressed state was encouraged to take up acting. With WW2 in full effect Leslie sounds like he was doing all he could to help. Rumoured to helping with intelligence and anti-German propaganda. Unfortunately the passenger aircraft was shot down by the Luftwaffe killing all onboard. You can read the theories on the doomed BOAC Flight 777 here.
- Look out for the moment the cinematography lines up perfectly the menacing throned Duke Mantee and the horned buffalo headdress hung on the wall, framing a devil like image.
- Duke Mantee is modeled on a public enemy number one kind of character like Dillinger
- Don’t worry the film still has some laughs all brought to you courtesy of Gramp Maple (Charley Grapewin) and his tall stories of Billy The Kid and his constant attempts to get booze.
- Actually there’s a petrified forest not far from me on the Isle of Purbeck. The Fossil Forest is from the Jurassic period some 144 million years ago.
- The Petrified Forest popped my 30’s film write up cherry on this blog
- Wanna read more? Alex over at Anybody Got A Match has recently done an excellent post looking at the film and the outlaw of Duke Mantee.
Now I knew this was going to be good, I was just absolutely clueless to how much I was going to love this film. It’s incredible. All three main stars shine bright and the small supporting cast are very likable but I think it’s the performance from Leslie Howard that really sets it aside. It’s a magical film filled with deep thoughts on life, fate and destiny. Honestly apart from knowing he was in Gone With The Wind, I haven’t seen anything else with him in. Please send me your recommendations. You know what, I can’t wait to introduce it to my daughter soon and in doing so, the chance to see it all again. I haven’t stopped thinking about it. A truly wonderful film.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and please feel welcome to comment if you wish. All the best, Mikey.