Colossus of Rhode Island

1936-The Petrified Forest

July 4, 2011
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The Petrified Forest from movieclassics.wordpress.com

The Petrified Forest from movieclassics.wordpress.com

From a purely historical standpoint, The Petrified Forest would be worth watching.  By 1936, Humphrey Bogart had worked in films and theater for years, with little success.  He co-starred as Duke Mantee, the gangster and main antagonist, in the stage version of The Petrified Forest.  When it was made into a movie he was cast in the same role.  This proved to be the breakthrough he needed in Hollywood and would get him a contract with Warner Brothers (he was typecast and appeared in some less-than-awesome movies during this period, and would not become a star until 5 years later, with The Maltese Falcon and High Sierra).  It is exceedingly interesting to see Bogart, seething as the gangster hemmed in by the police and trying to escape from the law, interact with a roomful of regular people trying to go about their lives.

That said, I don’t want you to see it just because of its effect on Bogart’s career.  It is an intriguing and captivating movie.  Clearly adapted from a play, most of the action takes place inside a diner in the American southwest.  Bette Davis plays Gabrielle, a young woman whose father owns the diner.  She wants to move to Paris to become a painter and feels trapped in her small world.  Leslie Howard’s character, Alan, is a drunkard and a drifter.  He’s erudite and intriguing (as all Leslie Howard characters must be) and she is immediately taken with his worldliness.  Howard and Davis were both fairly big stars at this point and their on-screen flirtation is wonderful to watch, partially because she is so smitten with him and he is, initially, so world-weary that he can’t seem to muster the interest to be smitten with anything.

When the diner’s patrons find that the criminal Duke Mantee is nearby and on the run from the police, they immediately begin to discuss his case.  They are frightened when Mantee arrives in the diner and holds them hostage, with the exception of Alan, who feels he has nothing to live for.  Alan and Mantee engage in conversation throughout the movie, as Alan is the only man unafraid of the famous gangster and the only person who is genuinely interested in the sociological meaning of crime and criminals in a depressed society.  Their interaction is especially captivating and both men give excellent performances.

Although the ending is a little melodramatic, the entire film is definitely worth a watch, particularly for the performances of Bogart and Howard.  Even though all the interaction is contained in a small space and there is relatively little action, it is a tense and exciting movie.

Why this was a hard decision (other movies from 1936 worth seeing):

Modern Times might be the last of Charlie Chaplin’s masterpieces and is a wonderful look at life during the depression through a humorous lens (I’d argue that The Great Dictator, which was release a few years later, was a very good film and a great piece of commentary and propaganda, but I don’t believe that it is as good as some of his earlier work).  Modern Times is a must see for anyone interested in the depression-era or in comedy in general.

The Devil Doll is a deliciously strange horror film starring Lionel Barrymore and directed by blog-favorite Tod Browning.  Barrymore plays a cross-dressing prison escapee in hiding who uses people, shrunk down to six inches tall, to extract his revenge.  The delightful Maureen O’Sullivan also appears.

There are tons of reasons why Dracula’s Daughter is interesting.  There are, I think, undertones of fears over same sex attraction between women and questions about femininity and what is an acceptable resolution to a story that focuses on an innocent girl who might be a vampire.  It’s really an interesting horror movie.

Gosta Ekman (who readers will remember from my post on Faust) and Ingrid Bergman both appeared in the Swedish version of Intermezzo, which caught the eye of producers in the U.S. and led to Bergman’s career in Hollywood.

Your stoner friends probably think Reefer Madness is hilarious.

Bullets or Ballots, starring Edward G. Robinson and Joan Blondell and featuring Humphrey Bogart, is a great demonstration of the effect of the Hays Code and the ways studios worked around it.  In this entry into the Gangster genre, Robinson plays an agent of the law who must infiltrate a gang, a far cry from his appearances in Little Caesar, when he was allowed to star in the film as a criminal.

Did you know?  (1936 Trivial knowledge)

  • Leslie Howard refused to appear in The Petrified Forest unless Bogart was allowed to reprise his stage role as Duke Mantee.  Bogart was so grateful that he and Lauren Bacall named one of their daughters Leslie Howard Bogart.
  • Howard died during WWII when his plane was shot down by the German military.  He was allegedly working secretly for the British government at the time.
  • Intermezzo was remade in 1939 with Bergman and Petrified Forest star Leslie Howard.
  • Bullets or Ballots star Edward G. Robinson was offered the role of Duke Mantee, but turned it down because he didn’t want to get typecast as a gangster.
  • Although all of Hollywood has gone to sound years earlier, Chaplin recorded Modern Times as a mostly silent film.  There was some dialogue, although this was only through machines (a television screen, a record player, etc).  Chaplin does “speak” onscreen for the first time, but he simply sings a song in gibberish near the end.  There was a synchronized soundtrack.

Favorite Quote:

“You’re the last great apostle of rugged individualism.”  Alan to Duke

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I write things...this thing that I'm writing and you're reading is a series of posts, starting with 1920 and focusing on a movie from each year that I think you should see.

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