|THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936)|
|"Any woman's worth everything that any man has to give. Anguish, ecstasy, faith, jealousy, love, hatred, life or death. Don't you see that's the whole excuse for our existence?"|
|Time: 83 mins.|
Rating: Not Rated
Showcasing one of Bogart earliest standout performances, THE PETRIFIED FOREST is a strange mix of romance, suspense and metaphysical meandering. It has to be one of the most verbose thrillers ever made. Leslie Howard plays Alan Squier, a rambling man-of-the-world with nowhere to go and no one to love until he stumbles into the desert cafť of Gabby Maple (Davis), a young artist desperate to escape her barren existence. Stuck holding down the fort for her father (Hall) and trying to keep her grandfather (Grapewin) from drinking them into the poorhouse, Gabby is thrilled to meet a man whoís knowledgeable about poetry and literature, whoís experiences life beyond the desert. Alan has nothing to show for his intelligence, but he sparks Gabbyís dreams of a better life, somewhere refined and noble instead of dusty and common. Their instant connection sparks jealousy in Boze (Foran), the station attendant trying to win Gabbyís heart. Once she realizes men like Alan exist, thereís no going back for Gabby. Unfortunately, her presence, though lovely and enchanting, comes along too late to save Alanís soul. He wants out of this life and luckily for him, heís in the right place at the right time,
Duke Mantee (Bogart), a career killer, has just escaped from the hands of the authorities and is heading in their direction with his posse of neíer do wells. Itís only a matter of time (and plotting) before everyone winds up at the cafť at the mercy of Duke and his gang. Alan had a chance to get away, but returns to make sure that Gabby emerges from this encounter unscathed. Wearing her heart on her sleeve, she tries to convince Alan that, if they survive, he could have a future with her. However, thatís not in the cards. Alan realizes the one way his life will make a difference is to help Gabby change hers. How he manages to accomplish this is by placing his life in the hands of Mantee, a man that doesnít give a ratís ass how many people come out of this showdown alive, as long as heís one of them. The other hostages canít understand Alanís philosophical musings and beg him to leave Mantee alone. Nothing good can come of his self-sacrifice. Heís captured Gabbyís heart and this game heís playing will only cause her pain. As the noose tightens on Mantee and his men, the stakes build higher and higher. Will Mantee escape to continue his rampage? Will Alan forego his death wish for a future with Gabby? Itís an up-to-the-minute nail-biter that doesnít disappoint.
Howard may be more famous for his role in GONE WITH THE WIND, but his early roles are the ones that really showcase his power as an actor. This film hinges on both his and Bogartís performances as they portray the dual sides of manís nature. Howard is delicate, pale, gentlemanly, kind, thoughtful and intelligent. Bogart is virile, swarthy, uncouth, bitter, common, selfish and vicious. In their own ways, they both hold sway over the hostages, one with his ideas, the other with a gun. Neither has contributed to society in a positive manner, though Mantee certainly has made his presence known. Alanís ruminations about life may be grand and idealistic, but Howard never comes across as pompous. For all his fine manners and worldly education, Alan is a loser and itís this obvious flaw that makes his character so likeable and tragic. He clearly has so much potential that you canít help but want him to find a reason to go on living. We share Gabbyís desperation, clinging to the hope that heíll find a way out of his melancholy. The plot tows a find line between the lightness of Gabbyís love and the dark pull of Manteeís malevolence. Though thereís very little physical action (and a whole lot of conversation), this film draws you in like quicksand, a little bit at a time until you canít escape itsí power.
FOREST was a step up for Davis and Bogart who manage to give complex and memorable performances despite the rather obvious natures of the characters they play. Their turns here give viewers a premonition of the powerful actors they were on the verge of becoming. Howard would most likely have been a star of their magnitude if he hadnít become a casualty of WWII. At least we have films like this one in which to enjoy his finesse and talent. For those viewers more familiar with current thrillers, FOREST will probably come off as dated, verbose and boring since thereís only one set, no car chases and very little gunplay. However, though the final payoff may be slightly hokey, the journey is one that grabs the heart, stimulates the mind and causes goose bumps to form. Rarely do three such talented actors get the chance to chew so much scenery with life and death hanging in the balance. Do yourself a favor and check out Bogey before he became a reluctant hero and Davis before she became an unrepentant bitch. A classic for a reason.