The Petrified Forest

Leslie Howard. Bette Davis. Humphrey Bogart. This is Humphrey Bogart’s breakout performance for which he will become one of the most iconic actors of all time. Bette Davis plays against type as an innocent, talented, young woman who is desperate to get out of her situation. Leslie Howard shows off his cute British accent and is infinitely charming. This film is based on a play and it the film does not hide it at all. The sets are unvarying and it is a dialogue heavy film. And yet the actors breathe life into the script and make it gripping. This is why I love old films. These actors are the best at what they do and the camera is completely uninterested in hiding that unlike today.

The story is about a young woman who is trapped at this gas station in the middle of Arizona. One day, an Englishman comes into the gas station and the woman is taken with him instantly. This was made in the middle of the depression and has a modern day setting, so the sight of a hobo was not uncommon, especially an artist hobo. He is a writer who is down on his luck and can write no more, so he decides to go across America and drown himself in the Pacific. At this time, there are several gangsters who are on the lam from the police near by. The main gangster, played by Bogey, picks this out of the way gas station as the meeting point for his girl. He holds up the girl, her grandfather, a gas station attendant, an aging couple and the said hobo. They each interact and react to each other in this small space.

What is infinitely fascinating is watching Humphrey Bogart act. He has always been one of my favorite actors and he shines in this role that originated on stage. His performance is based on Dillinger which is where he gets his peculiar walk from. He sort of growls out his words instead of saying them straight. When hs finds out that his dame squawked on him, his face emote more than his cold words do. You can tell that this man is done for. All he wants to do is be with this woman who when she betrays him, he can still not think of trying a way to rescue her from the clutches of the police. It is a great performance. No wonder everyone loved it and practically threw roles at him.

Leslie Howard and Bette Davis are also an interesting couple. They had been together before in the sub par Of Human Bondage adaptation a couple of years before. However in that film, Bette Davis was too busy being a tramp and Leslie Howard was too busy being a man full to the brim with principles to have too much chemistry. Here however, their chemistry is more palatable.  Bette hangs onto every word that Leslie emits, even if it seems to be too depressing or over her head. Leslie’s affection for Bette is a slow build up but it becomes all-encompassing and makes him want to sacrifice himself in order to give her a better life. It is hopelessly romantic.

Gosh I am a sucker for hopeless romance and great performances.


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