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WARNER

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Archie Mayo
Cast:
Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Genevieve Tobin, Dick Foran, Humphrey Bogart, Joe Sawyer, Porter Hall, Charley Grapewin
Writing Credits:
Robert E. Sherwood (play), Charles Kenyon, Delmer Daves

Synopsis:
A rundown diner bakes in the Arizona heat. Inside, fugitive killer Duke Mantee sweats out a manhunt, holding disillusioned writer Alan Squier, young Gabby Maple and a handful of others hostage. As trapped as his captives, Mantee admits: "It looks like I'll spend the rest of my life dead." The Petrified Forest, Robert Sherwood's 1935 Broadway success about survival of the fittest in the modern world, hit the screen a year later with Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart magnificently recreating their stage roles and Bette Davis ably reteaming with her Of Human Bondage co-star Howard. Sherwood initially wanted Bogart for a smaller role. "I thought Sherwood was right," Bogart said. "I couldn't picture myself playing a gangster. So what happened? "I made a hit as the gangster." So right was he that Howard refused to make the film without him ... and helped launch Bogie's brilliant movie career.

Box Office:
Budget
$500 thousand.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
French
Spanish
German
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 82 min.
Price: $19.97
Release Date: 1/25/2005

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Bogart Biographer Eric Lax
• “Warner Night at the Movies”
• “The Petrified Forest: Menace in the Desert” Documentary
• Radio Broadcast
• Trailer


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RELATED REVIEWS


Petrified Forest (1936)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 19, 2005)

We all learn of movies via different methods, but I took an unusual path to 1936’s The Petrified Forest. Over the last few years, I heard a lot about it due to supplements on various DVDs. Forest maintains a place in movie history as the flick that made Humphrey Bogart a star. This factoid pops up in almost every program that discusses the actor, so I felt like I knew the movie pretty well when the DVD finally hit the shelves.

Set at a desolate gas station and diner in the middle of the Arizona desert, we meet the operators: Jason Maple (Porter Hall), his daughter Gabrielle (Bette Davis), “Gramps” (Charley Grapewin), and football-obsessed Boze Hertzlinger (Dick Foran). Boze is also sweet on Gabrielle and pushes his affections on her. The locals worry that violent gangster Duke Mantee (Bogart) and his gang are headed their way.

Into this setting steps effete writer Alan Squier (Leslie Howard). The mysterious Alan wanders in out of nowhere as a nomadic hitchhiker. Alan eats as he gets to know Gabrielle and vice versa. The two quickly develop affection for each other, which provokes jealousy in Boze.

The film’s first act follows the romantic angle and also introduces a few other characters like wealthy Mr. (Paul Harvey) and Mrs. Chisholm (Genevieve Tobin) when they stop in for gas. Gabrielle arranges for them to give Alan a lift and they leave. Matters take a negative turn when they pass Mantee and his gang near their broken-down car. The gangsters accost them and steal their vehicle.

Eventually they wind up at the diner. Alan returns to warn them but he’s too late. Mantee holds the locals hostage while he waits for a car with his girlfriend to arrive. The rest of the film follows this drama as well as a few character issues.

Before I saw Forest, I expected it to be more of a straight gangster flick. Granted, I knew that Bogart played a supporting role, but I didn’t anticipate that so much of it would play as romance. Surprisingly, I don’t find those elements to present negatives. Instead, they add depth to the movie, partially due to the good chemistry between Howard and Davis. They allow us to believe their “love at first sight” as they create likable characters.

When Mantee arrives, I can’t say it comes as a surprise since the movie builds up his presence in the area. However, it still creates an interesting twist, one that the film exploits well. We don’t really expect this quiet romance to turn into a hostage drama, but the movie makes the transition smoothly.

Much of the fun comes from the various interactions in the diner, especially whenever we see Gramps. Grapewin’s quirky turn steals the show. The old-timer admires the murderous Mantee, and he lights up at the possibility that killing will occur. Oddly but wisely, the movie plays these elements for laughs, and Grapewin’s giddiness creates an amusing counterpoint to the darkness.

Despite somewhat limited screen time, Bogart definitely makes a strong impression. He offers a cruel and insolent performance as Mantee that also aptly conveys the killer’s weariness. Dark and vicious but oddly sympathetic, Bogart uses his shots to form a full-blooded character.

Forest shows its roots as a stage production since the vast majority of the action takes place in one room. We occasionally venture outside, but not with much frequency. Happily, this benefits the movie, especially once the hostage section of the film starts. The limited use of locations adds to the claustrophobia of the situation. Director Archie Mayo keeps the pacing peppy, and that also brings life to a story that could have turned slow and dull.

The Petrified Forest definitely suffers from some flaws. Most of the personalities fail to develop beyond one dimension, and the tale occasionally drags. However, the film usually overcomes obstacles, and it adds up to an enjoyable and mostly engrossing flick.


The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+

The Petrified Forest appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As one might expect of a nearly 70-year-old flick, some problems occurred, but not enough to create real issues.

Sharpness mostly came across well. A few shots seemed slightly ill defined, and the image became slightly soft on occasion. Nonetheless, the majority of the flick appeared nicely distinctive and detailed. I noticed virtually no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement was minimal.

Blacks looked tight and deep, and contrast seemed solid. The movie exhibited a nicely silver sheen that depicted the black and white photography well. Not surprisingly, print flaws created the biggest concerns. Throughout the film, I saw occasional examples of specks and spots, and periodic examples of grit, nicks, vertical lines and blotches also manifested themselves. Grain seemed a little heavier than normal as well. While the defects created intermittent distractions, they seemed pretty modest for a movie rapidly approaching its 70th birthday. Overall, Forest offered a satisfying image.

In addition, The Petrified Forest presented a more-than-adequate monaural soundtrack. Nothing about the audio excelled, but it seemed solid for its age. Speech demonstrated pretty positive clarity and appeared surprisingly natural. Some lines were slightly edgy, but the dialogue didn’t seem as thin and shrill as I expected. Effects were acceptably clean and accurate; they didn’t demonstrate much range, but they lacked distortion and were fairly concise. Music seemed similarly restricted but sounded fine for its age. The songs were reasonably full and replicated the source material acceptably. Hiss occasionally appeared through the movie, but it lacked other source flaws like pops or clicks. Ultimately, Forest provided a fine piece for a flick from 1936.

As for the DVD’s extras, we begin with an audio commentary from Bogart biographer Eric Lax. He presents a running, screen-specific chat heavy on details about the various participants during its first half. Occasionally we learn a bit about the production of Forest itself, but notes about the cast and crew dominate. At times these come across as annotated filmographies, but some parts dig into the folks more deeply. Given Lax’s background, that’s especially true for Bogart, as the biographer tells us a little more about the actor compared to the others.

Matters change during the track’s second half. During that span, Lax gets into a synopsis of the evolution of Warner Bros. and many specifics of how Forest came to the screen. He balances out a mix of issues well and makes this a uniformly enjoyable and informative commentary.

A creative and fun addition to the set, Warner Night at the Movies attempts to replicate the cinematic experience circa 1936. As explained via a three-minute and five-second introduction from Leonard Maltin, this feature includes a trailer for Bullets or Ballots, a flick from the same era as Forest, plus a period newsreel, an animated short called Coo Coo Nut Grove and a live-action musical short entitled Rhythmitis. These are the kinds of pieces that might have preceded a theatrical showing of Forest, so if you activate this feature, you get an attempt to duplicate a night at the cinema. I like this program and think it’s quite clever. Use the “Play All” option to run each of these features and then automatically launch into Forest.

In addition to the film’s trailer, the disc includes a new documentary called The Petrified Forest: Menace in the Desert. This 15-minute and 45-second piece melds movie snippets, archival materials, and interviews. We get remarks from Lax, filmmaker/film historian Alain Silver, author Mark A. Vieira, author/film professor Robert Sklar, author/film critic Andrew Sarris, and film professor Dr. Drew Casper.

The participants discuss Bogart’s need for a screen success and his work in Forest, the film’s use of the western myth and the gangster genre, the early signs of film noir and the movie’s staging, and its ending and legacy. Some information repeats from the commentary, but because it mostly stays with an interpretation of the performances and themes, that doesn’t happen too often. Instead, it digs beneath the surface of the production with good insight. This allows it to compliment the commentary and create a good examination of the flick.

Finally, the extras end with a January 7 1940 Gulf Screen Theater Radio Broadcast. This 28-minute and 54-second program features a performance of Forest that uses actors Tyrone Power as Alan, Joan Bennett as Gabrielle, and Bogart as Mantee. This presents a very abbreviated version of the tale; it loses a number of characters and moves at a ridiculously fast pace. Still, it’s an interesting historical curiosity. Make sure to stick around to the end; the program concludes with a weird quiz show that involves the actors.

While its stars would all go on to greater glory in later endeavors, The Petrified Forest provides a satisfying flick. It meshes the romantic and gangster genres to create a lively and involving character drama. The DVD presents generally positive picture and audio along with some strong extras highlighted by an excellent audio commentary. As both a fine movie and a quality DVD, Forest merits my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.5555 Stars Number of Votes: 9
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