The Petrified Forest

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From the play of the same name by Robert Sherwood

Okay, this was a real pip. We were in the middle of our New Year’s Day Videofest (theme: Humphrey Bogart) and had suffered through The Barefoot Contessa but this was so good, it really cheered us up.

Bette Davis (very young, very pert, very pretty) is the daughter of the owner of a roadside cafe in the middle of nowhere in Arizona. A drifter (recently promoted Serious Honey Leslie Howard) stops for a meal, they banter, sparks fly. The football player who is the gas jockey there is jealous. Dad goes off to his ‘old soldiers’ meeting, grandpa is seriously annoying…and THEN THE MOBSTERS COME! and hold everyone, including the rich couple and their chauffeur, hostage.

This is a tautly written and suspenseful play which works very well as a movie. The scenes with any combination of Bogart (the lead mobster, of course, the role that really made him a star), Howard and Davis are riveting, and the byplay and action are wonderful.

Bogart well deserved stardom for this one, he quietly radiates menace. Howard is the epitome of the well-bred drifter with no place in the world as it is, and Davis is (as is generally true in her 30s movies) wonderful.

This is exciting and interesting both (and not in the pejorative sense, as Mr. Otter claims Americans use that word); lots of action, much byplay and tension between characters, good supporting actors, a real pleasure to watch.

Interesting sideline: one of the gangsters is African-American. He comes in after the others, having been lookout, and swaps off with another of the gangsters. Bogie sends him into the kitchen with the cook to get something to eat, rather than have the cook make it and bring it out. I’m sure it was because in 1931, God forbid he should eat out in the cafe with the others…! an interesting moment…

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