Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Petrified Forest

Our next movie takes me back to one of my very first posts. TCM are honoring Leslie Howard tonight in prime time, and kick off the evening with his 1936 movie The Petrified Forest, at 8:00 PM ET.

Based on a Broadway play, The Petrified Forest sees Howard get top billing as a romantic, utopian poet making his way across the US, who stops in at a local watering hole somewhere in the Southwest. The place is manned by Bette Davis and her father. She's only working there because she doesn't have any other economic opportunities; in reality, she's just as much the dreamer and artist as Howard, and would like desperately to get away fro mthis God-forsaken place. And when Leslie Howard walks in, this might finally be her chance.

Sadly, fate steps in. Well, not so much fate, but gangster Duke Mantee, played by Humphrey Bogart, who was still way down the billing list. He and his gang are on the run, and figure that this is the perfect place for them to stop and wait for his woman. Duke and his gang proceed to take over the joint and hold everybody hostage. As I mentioned a year ago, Leslie Howard seemed to get cast as a lot of milquetoast characters, and this one is no exception, although the combination of the hostage crisis, and having a girl he now loves, finally affords him a chance to do the right thing, at least in his own way.... (Well, he also did the right thing in A Free Soul and some other movies, but he always came across as weak.)

Although Leslie Howard is the lead, and Bette Davis does an excellent job without being very over the top. However, Humphrey Bogart steals the show the minute he walks into the joint. He wasn't really even a B star yet: he'd made a few movies, and doing stage work, but this was the movie that got his career going and got him bigger roles playing second behind James Cagney or Pat O'Brien in Warners' late-30s gangster movies. Of all the gin joints in all the world, he had to walk into Bette Davis'.

Petrified Forest is available on DVD, should you miss TCM's showing.

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