One year, one film: 1936
The Petrified Forest, dir. Archie Mayo
starring Bette Davis, Leslie Howard, Humphrey Bogart
Recommended | Highly Recommended | MUST-SEE
Bette Davis stars in The Petrified Forest as Gabrielle Maple, a young woman living in Arizona. Along with her father and grandfather, she helps run a gas station/diner on an isolated stretch of highway.
Most of Gabrielle’s days are monotonous, but one day, a drifting writer named Alan Squire (portrayed by Leslie Howard) stops at the diner. Gabrielle is intrigued by this intelligent man and wishes to run away with him, to see the world. The day gets even more dramatic when murderous criminal Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) shows up at the diner.
The Petrified Forest is an intriguing film, taking a critical look at some of America’s social problems without being overly preachy. The performances are fantastic, the dialogue is great, and the story consistently gripping. I consider this film to be an absolute must-see.
So, how about those contemporary critics? Did they adore Leslie Howard’s performance as much as I did, or find the script to be well-adapted from Robert E. Sherwood’s play?
Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times was impressed with the adaptation, writing “The Warners continue to display their skill at transcribing plays into film.” Like me, Nugent also adored Leslie Howard’s performance, crediting Howard with much of the film’s success and stating that “There was nothing the camera could do, granted that it tried, that could add to Mr. Howard’s stature in this his favorite role; nor was there anything that could detract from it. His performance is as shrewd here, as delicately balanced and as precisely right as it was in the play.” (February 7, 1936)
Variety shared my opinion as well, praising the adaptation as well as the performances. “Davis gives a characterization that fetches both sympathy and admiration,” the review notes, and “Bogart’s menace leaves nothing wanting.”
Part romance, part crime drama, and part social critique, The Petrified Forest is a complex and well-made film more than worthy of the viewer’s time. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it as soon as possible!