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Petrified Forest, The
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by Natasha Theobald

"Bogart takes hostages."
4 stars

On the edge of the Arizona desert, there is a gas station, miles from anything else. People come and go, stopping only to eat and refuel. The petrified forest is a place where trees have died and turned to stone. The people in this part of the world are not dead, though they may not feel much difference, such as things are.

Gabrielle Maple (Bette Davis) lives near the gas station and spends her life serving food to the customers, as well as caring for her World War I veteran father (Porter Hall) and her Gramp (Charley Grapewin), who glories in telling customers tales of the old West, such as when he was shot at by Billy the Kid. Her only other possible companionship comes in the form of Boze (Dick Foran), a former football player with a sweet spot for the lady of the house. And, while she may consider his advances, as there isn't anyone else around, he doesn't feed her spirit or mind the way the books of poetry her mother sends from France on her birthday can do.

The endless time is only disrupted by the occasional fresh face of someone from the road, and she takes interest in one such individual, a writer hitchhiking across the country named Alan Squier (Leslie Howard). He is a self-described intellectual, though he doesn't hold such things in high regard. She is fascinated by his ideas about the world and wishes she could follow him, traveling to a place where something happens. Neither of them knows that the world is soon to crash in on them in the form of Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) and his gang. They are gangsters being pursued by the police for a body count of six back in Oklahoma. Their car is broken down, and they need a place to wait. They have guns, and they will have their way.

Ah, to watch a movie from a time when a love for language and an interest in ideas permeated the script. Writers Charles Kenyon and Delmer Daves, working from the play by Robert Emmet Sherwood, give the characters enviable speeches, allowing the audience the time and wherewithal to know and care about the people being shown. While the film is somewhat theatrical, taking place mostly on one set with little action, it serves the story both in terms of the isolation of the place and the desperation of the situation in which these small town folks find themselves. Parts are humorous and parts are dramatic, but the shift from one to the other is natural to the story, never contrived. And, the story folds back on itself, giving depth and meaning to ideas made reality.

It is wonderful to watch Bogart in gangster mode, and the power of his mere presence is enough to energize things, differentiating from the time before his arrival. Davis' Gabrielle is bright-eyed and almost brilliant, embracing anything new with a voracity and hunger that illuminates the center of her character and the life she has led. Leslie Howard is as light as Bogart is heavy, and the contrast between the two is fascinating. Charley Grapewin gets some funny stuff as Gramp, a bit of comic relief.

Even as the events of the story twist and turn to their final outcome, the viewer is struck by the poetry inherent in a life examined and the consciousness which marked another time in our collective history. While plagued by the issues of a different time and place, their means of searching for understanding and some meaning are not so different from our own.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8143&reviewer=317
originally posted: 09/09/03 15:10:11
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User Comments

3/07/08 Pamela White suspense drama great screenplay 5 stars
7/08/05 John MacKendrick Thought provoking and tense. Improves upon rewatching. 5 stars
7/06/05 R.W. Welch Neatly written Broadway play transferred to the screen. Bogart's big break. 4 stars
7/15/04 TerryMurray I always heard so much of the roles the actors played and the reputation of the movie 4 stars
3/15/04 Sam Martin lyrical and tense with strong performances 4 stars
12/19/03 Eliza Howard kicks butt! 5 stars
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  08-Feb-1936 (NR)
  DVD: 05-Oct-2010



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