With With Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Dick Foran, Charles Grapewin
Directed by Archie Mayo
Black and White
Review by JL and JB

Luckily, the poet's pretentious blather was registered as a deadly weapon     I usually try to appreciate the context of the times before I label a film as "dated," but no matter how thought-provoking THE PETRIFIED FOREST might have seemed in the 1930s, it just doesn't cut it for me any more.  The main problem is Leslie Howard's character of wandering poet Alan Squire (dressed in tweed and smoking a pipe, in case you forget he's a wandering poet), who spouts more pretentious blather than can be found in the collected works of Rod McKuen.  When he's indulging in dime-store philosophy and yammering on about "I belong to a vanishing race, I'm one of the intellectuals...Brains without purpose!  Noise without sound!  Shape without substance!", I just want to tweak his nose and dunk his tie in his soup.  Bette Davis, usually one of my favorite actresses, doesn't help matters by shouting most of her lines without any apparent thought as to what she's saying.  It's Humphrey Bogart in his breakthrough role that makes the film worthwhile for me, but even he was stronger playing similar gangster characters in other films.  I know THE PETRIFIED FOREST is regarded as a classic by many, but I suggest checking out KEY LARGO, a better telling of roughly the same story, minus the overwrought drivel.  I give it an extra star for being the film that gave Bogey a career.  - JL

    While Leslie Howard's character is indeed nearly insufferable in this film (you usually don't find this much pretentious yammering outside of a Charlie Chaplin talkie), you gotta tip your hat to the man.  Without Howard's influence, Humphrey Bogart may have never become a movie star.  While Bogey had done some films for Fox, Columbia and even Warners, he hadn't yet caught on with the public.  Howard and Bogey starred in the stage version of The Petrified Forest, which was a major success, and Leslie promised Bogart that if the play was ever adapted into a film, he would try to make sure Bogart got to recreate his gangster role of Duke Mantee.  Warner's bought the play and cast Howard to star, and, true to his word, Howard used his star power to get Warners to agree to bring Bogart along for the ride. So hat's off to Leslie.

    But I agree with what Paul Harvey says in this film to the wandering poet - I'm really not interested in your whimsicality! 2½ - JB

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Copyright © 2010 John V. Brennan, John Larrabee