“Star Of The Month (November 2021)” Featuring Humphrey Bogart in… The Petrified Forest (1936)

Now that it’s November, we’ve moved on to the new Star: Humphrey Bogart! Now, for my first Bogart film this month, I went with a movie where he may not be the main star, but he still has an important part in it! It’s the 1936 drama The Petrified Forest starring Leslie Howard and Bette Davis.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Rhythmitis (1936)

(available as an extra on the The Petrified Forest Blu-ray from Warner Home Video)

(Length: 19 minutes, 37 seconds)

According to a doctor, Hal (Hal Le Roy) is suffering from “rhythmitis,” but a pill that the doctor gives him to “cure” it only makes it worse! Of course, star Lola Green (Toby Wing) and her agent are passing by, and decide to make Hal a star. This was a fun little musical short. Hal Le Roy does some pretty good dancing here. This short isn’t anything special, but it’s entertaining, with a twist for the ending that I didn’t see coming (as I had expected a different twist). Certainly one that would be fun to see every now and then!

Coming Up Shorts! with… The CooCoo Nut Grove (1936)

(available as an extra on the The Petrified Forest Blu-ray from Warner Home Video)

(Length: 6 minutes, 46 seconds)

In this short, we visit a Hollywood nightclub and see some of the various celebrities. This is another fun cartoon in the vein of seeing some of the various Hollywood stars (here mostly from the 1930s) caricatured. Personally, I recognize most of them, which still allows for some of the humor to work quite well. I’ll admit, I’ve seen other cartoons with celebrity caricatures that were better, but this one was entertaining enough, even if it really didn’t have much of a plot.

And Now For The Main Feature…

In an Arizona desert, there is a fairly isolated gas station/diner called the Black Mesa Bar-B-Q. The place is run by Jason Maple (Porter Hall) with the help of his daughter Gabrielle (Bette Davis), his father (affectionately known as “Gramp,” as played by Charley Grapewin) and Gabrielle’s wannabe boyfriend, Boze Hertzlinger (Dick Foran). Gabrielle feels stuck there, and wants to go to Paris to see her mother and study art, but cannot afford to make the trip (so is stuck waiting for her inheritance when her grandfather dies). One day, a penniless hitchhiker named Alan Squier (Leslie Howard) stops at the diner, and captures Gabrielle’s imagination with his philosophy and tales of his travels. She falls for him, and decides to show him her artwork (something she’s not willing to do for much of anybody). However, he can feel that she is falling for him, and decides to leave. Understanding his desire to leave, she helps him catch a ride with a rich couple (Mr. and Mrs. Chisholm, as played by Paul Harvey and Genevieve Tobin, respectively) that are passing through. Their trip away from the diner ends quickly when they run into gangster and killer Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) and his men, who steal the car and head towards the diner. While the Chisholms and their chauffeur try to see if they can repair the bullet-ridden car that Duke had abandoned, Alan tries to get back to the diner on foot to warn Gabrielle. He is too late, though, as Duke and his men had already gotten there, and decided to hold everybody hostage (including the Chisholms when they walk back). Duke’s men urge him to keep on going to the border, but he is intent on staying there, as he had promised to meet his girlfriend there. During one moment when Duke is distracted, Boze tries to wrest a gun away, but fails (and gets shot in the hand for his efforts). Feeling like he is doomed to die, Alan decides to sign his life insurance over to Gabrielle (so that she can afford to go to Paris), and asks Duke to kill him before he leaves. Will Alan and Duke go through with this plan? Or will Gabrielle give up on her dreams of Paris (and convince Alan to live)?

When he originally wrote the play The Petrified Forest, playwright Robert Sherwood originally based the character of Duke Mantee on John Dillinger (who was then public enemy #1). When the play was cast, Humphrey Bogart was chosen to play the role at least partly because of his resemblance to Dillinger. He put the time in to study footage of Dillinger and adopt some of his idiosyncrasies for his performance. It paid off, helping make the show a big hit. However, that wasn’t quite enough for Hollywood. When Warner Brothers bought the film rights, they brought along the show’s lead, Leslie Howard (already an established star in Hollywood). There were no plans to bring Bogart, however, as Warners wanted to cast their own star, Edward G. Robinson, in the role. Leslie Howard had promised Bogart that he would get the role for the movie, and threatened to walk off the picture if Bogart didn’t do it. So, the studio relented, Bogart was cast, and the film did well enough that he was put under a long-term contract with the studio. It wasn’t a major step (as he still had a few years ahead of playing second fiddle to some of the bigger stars, and doing leads in “B” pictures), but he had finally become a star in Hollywood.

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve had the chance to see a “new” Humphrey Bogart film (well, new to me, anyways), so this is a nice way to start off the month. Obviously, it’s still early Bogie, so the fact that he really isn’t the main character isn’t much of a surprise. That being said, his performance was definitely one of the high points of the film. He certainly manages to give us a sense of menace, while also still trying to be human (as he waits for his girlfriend). It was quite fascinating to watch him. Apart from him, the movie can be a bit slow. In particular, it really feels like it gets bogged down with some of the philosophy that Leslie Howard’s Alan Squier spouts. And for that matter, I’m not sure that I care much for Leslie Howard’s performance. The rest of the film is interesting, and I’m impressed with how it achieves so much with so little, since we spend most of the film in the diner (although the action does move away here and there). Apart from Leslie Howard, I find the rest of the cast doing well acting-wise, and it made it easier to sit through the movie. Amongst the gangster films I’ve seen (as of this writing, we’re talking about The Public Enemy, Little Caesar and Each Dawn I Die), I think this is the second best. Certainly one that I would recommend!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Home Video, either individually or as part of the four film Ultimate Gangsters Collection: Classics.

Film Length: 1 hour, 22 minutes

My Rating: 8/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Leslie Howard – Stand-In (1937)

Bette Davis – Jezebel (1938)

Humphrey BogartStand-In (1937)

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