Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Essentials- "The Petrified Forest" (1936)

The Essentials-#36

The Petrified Forest
"The Petrified Forest" is not an average gangster movie. In fact, to call it a gangster movie seems wildly off-base. Its a movie with a gangster in it, not a gangster film. "The Petrified Forest" is a thriller more than anything. Not an ordinary thriller, its a movie that makes you think about your life. Its a movie that makes you think what you would do with your life if it were threatened. Would you do something selfless or selfish with your final moments? That is essentially what the movie asks, what would you do if you were looking death right in the eye?

The movie revolves around Alan Squier (Leslie Howard), a man who was once a prominent British intellectual and writer. Sadly, Squier has fallen on hard times and now spends his days drinking lots of booze. He wanders into a diner in the Petrified Forest of Arizona. A long stretch of the film is about Squier telling old stories about his successes to the diner owner's daughter Gabrielle (Bette Davis). At first you may think that the movie may materialize into a romance of sorts. But that's not at all what happens, things change drastically when known gangster Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) and his crew take over the diner after being on the run from the cops.

As the cops close in on Duke, Alan remembers that he doesn't have much to live for, and he makes a huge decision that changes everything for his new acquaintances. I would not dare reveal what that decision is, but its what the film is all about. When your facing danger head-on, and you only have moments to live, how would you make those moments matter? This is what makes the film so great to watch. Well, that and Humphrey Bogart of course!

Its interesting to see Bogart go bad. I mean, sure, Bogart has always had some kind of "bad boy" persona in a great number of his films. Yet throughout his career, he has only rarely been a flat out, ruthless villain. Bogart makes Duke come alive though, and Bogart is the highlight of the film. I don't want that to be a slam on the rest of the cast though. The chemistry by Davis and Howard is the glue to the movie, and we have to buy into that chemistry in order to believe that Howard cares for Davis. Because when Howard finally makes his big decision at the end, he has to mean in order for it to work, and Howard allows the audience to believe it.

Definitely check "The Petrified Forest" soon!

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