Leslie Howard
Bette Davis
Dick Foran
Porter Hall
Humphrey Bogart
Charley Grapewin
Genevieve Tobin
Joe Sawyer
Paul Harvey
Eddie Acuff
Adrian Morris

Archie Mayo


Time: 83 Minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Drama/Crime

Showcasing one of Bogart's 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 café 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 who's knowledgeable about poetry and literature, who’s experiences life beyond the desert. Alan has nothing to show for his intelligence, but he sparks Gabby's 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 Gabby's heart. Once she realizes men like Alan exist, there's no going back for Gabby. Unfortunately, her presence, though lovely and enchanting, comes along too late to save Alan's soul. He wants out of this life and luckily for him, he's 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 ne'er do wells. It's only a matter of time (and plotting) before everyone winds up at the café 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, that's 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 doesn't give a rat's ass how many people come out of this showdown alive, as long as he's one of them. The other hostages can't understand Alan's philosophical musings and beg him to leave Mantee alone. Nothing good can come of his self-sacrifice. He's captured Gabby's heart and this game he's 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? It's an up-to-the-minute nail-biter that doesn't disappoint.

"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?"

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 Bogart's performances as they portray the dual sides of man's 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. Alan's 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 it's this obvious flaw that makes his character so likeable and tragic. He clearly has so much potential that you can't help but want him to find a reason to go on living. We share Gabby's desperation, clinging to the hope that he'll find a way out of his melancholy. The plot tows a find line between the lightness of Gabby's love and the dark pull of Mantee's malevolence. Though there's 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 can't escape its' 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 hadn't 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 there's 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.

home | reviews | actors | actresses | film heaven | all reviews