Tuesday, January 1, 2019

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR JANUARY ON TCM


Robert E. Sherwood was an acclaimed playwright and producer who wrote classic dramas like Waterloo Bridge and classic comedies such as Tovarich. His 1935 Broadway hit The Petrified Forest ran for six months and was co-produced by its leading player, Leslie Howard.


Program notes on the actor playing Duke Mantee.

When Warner Brothers bought the film rights for a 1936 production, Leslie Howard was part of the deal. When Leslie Howard agreed to the movie, he made certain that his Broadway co-star Humphrey Bogart was also part of the deal. Bogart had been in sensation in the role of Duke Mantee, the moody and brutal murderer. Bogart took this opportunity to redeem his stalled Hollywood career.

Alan Squier, played by Leslie Howard, has a strong case of the old ennui exacerbated by the heavy mantle of early literary success and a failed marriage. Penniless, he is now roaming the world in search of something. His search has led him to a way station in the desert in the southwestern United States. Howard's performance is filled with fatalism and a self-deprecating sense of humour.

Gramp Maple, played by Charlie Grapewin is the owner of said way station, a combination gas station/lunch room. Gramp's son Jason played by Porter Hall got traveling out of his system after WWI when he had returned from France with a wife and a young daughter. The wife soon tired of the isolation and loneliness, returning to her native land.

Leslie Howard, Bette Davis

Gramps and Jason Maple were left to raise young Gabriella, played by Bette Davis. The isolation and loneliness that plagued her mother now irks Gaby. She is also a girl of imagination who yearns for adventure, for life beyond the same old thing and the same old people. Alan Squier is definitely not "the same old people." Bette is a charming, breath of fresh air in this role.

Alan is amused and touched by Gaby. Gaby is intrigued by Alan, while also seeing that he needs to be cared for. His presence ignites all of Gaby's feelings of romance and adventure. He even speaks French! Dick Foran plays Boze Hertzlinger, a footballer and mechanic at the station. He has romantic feelings or designs that could pass for romance, on Gaby. Gaby instinctively realizes that such an involvement would be disastrous.

Joe Sawyer, Humphrey Bogart, Adrian Morris

"Now just behave yourself and nobody will get hurt. This is Duke Mantee, the world-famous killer and he's hungry!"

Who knows how things would have turned out for these people without the involvement of Duke Mantee? The excitement in the locale is the police manhunt for the escaped killer played by Humphrey Bogart. Jason Maple has joined his local militia in the search, giving him a chance to wear a uniform again. Gramps is thrilled to follow the news on the radio, and hopes for a shootout.

Genevieve Tobin, Paul Harvey, John Alexander

Gramps is going to get up close to the action this night. Duke Mantee and his gang intend to hole up at the way station waiting for Duke's girlfriend and the cash he had stowed away. Love is at the root of his belief that the woman will show up. Mantee creates a night of violence and fear by holding the people we have previously met as hostages, along with a wealthy couple, Mr. and Mrs. Chisholm played by Genevieve Tobin and Paul Harvey. The couple's personal attitudes and conflicts play off of the situation created by the criminals in their midst.

There is an interesting undercurrent between two African American characters, the Chisholm's chauffeur Joseph, played by John Alexander and one of the Mantee gang played by Slim Thompson. Both actors are reprising their roles from the original Broadway production.

Leslie Howard, Dick Foran, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart

Destiny is the invisible visitor to the way station along with the intellectual hobo and the violent hood. Character is tested, dreams revealed and lives are bared open. Who will survive the night and who will be buried in the Petrified Forest?

Surprisingly, the Academy was not impressed by The Petrified Forest. The fine acting, directing by Archie Mayo, cinematography by Sol Polito, and the screenplay by Sherwood, Delmer Daves and Charles Kenyon were ignored at Oscar time. Nonetheless, the film preserves for us one of the important plays of the 20th century and a groundbreaking performance by an actor and star who still inspires.


TCM is screening The Petrified Forest on Friday, January 18th at the unimaginable hour of 6:15 a.m. and will be followed by a slate of other films from the pen of Mr. Sherwood. Maybe you haven't seen it in a while, or perhaps you only know it by reputation. At any rate, it is well worth recording for your pleasure and convenience.


Bonus:


The Broadway production
Broadhurst Theatre
January - June 1935


Humphrey Bogart again takes on the skin of Duke Mantee in a live television production of The Petrified Forest for Producers' Showcase in 1955. Lauren Bacall is Gaby and Henry Fonda is Alan Squier. Tad Mosel wrote the script and Delbert Mann directed.












18 comments:

  1. Sounds like it's in a similar vein to KEY LARGO, no? Only without the hurricane.

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    1. All hostage dramas owe a debt to other hostage dramas, even such a prolific playwright as Largo's Maxwell Anderson could not deny the influence.

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  2. I'm looking forward to this one. I love Bogart as "Duke". Another Fav is Charley Grapewin who had a lock on the "Rustic Old Guy" parts in the 30s and early 40s. As for "Key Largo", a lot of changes were made to the 1939 Maxwell Anderson play - making it very similar to Petrified Forest. Well, who said Hollywood was always original?

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    1. For me, The Petrified Forest long ago became "oh yeah, that" but I revisited it recently and the old admiration was back.

      It would have been interesting to see Muni and Ferrer on stage in Key Largo. As it translated it makes for riveting cinema.

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  3. Frankly, I love it when TCM puts on films at the "unimaginable hours" like 6:15 a.m. There's nothing worse than when they put something on I need to see at 4 p.m. on a Sunday when I might have two other similar offering from movie channels and four sporting event on my cable package. It's not easy being the "Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies" guy :)

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    1. Indeed. Timing is everything. Being able to record and fit something into our schedule instead of the other way around is definitely living the dream.

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  4. I watched this film in 2018 - last year, wow! - and loved it. Bette and Leslie are great, but Bogie steals the show. I love it when a paitr of horns appear over his head thanks to the camera angle.
    Great review! Kisses!

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    1. The movie is full of interesting touches that I didn't catch on my first couple of viewings. It is worth everyone's time, time and time again.

      Thanks for visiting.

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  5. Hey Paddy, Congratulations you are one of my 15 nominees in the Versatile Blogger category... https://weegiemidget.wordpress.com/about/my-blogging-awards/5-fabulous-bloggers/

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    1. Thank you. I am honoured. I enjoyed reading your fun facts and will check out the bloggers you nominated that I have yet to read.

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  6. Leslie Howard makes the movie for me. I always like him, but occasionally he seems miscast. THE PETRIFIED FOREST provides an ideal role for him. The diner in the dessert setting is marvelous, too.

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    1. I agree. The role seems very simpatico to Leslie Howard's personality. It is something he totally wrapped himself up in.

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  7. I just watched it again, it's a wonderful movie and your review did it justice. I agree with Rick, Howard could sometimes be miscast but Alan Squire is a role that suits him perfectly.

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    1. Thank you for the compliment. It is, for me, the sort of movie that only improves with multiple viewings. Your focus can switch to different characters or themes and each time you come away with something new.

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  8. SUCH a great film. I get defensive when people say Bogart didn't "act" in this film, he merely "aped" John Dillinger – which so unfair. Like others have said, Bogart steals this film, which is quite a feat considering the cast. A terrific review!

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    1. I understand your defensiveness regarding Bogart's performance. It is mesmerizing. He obviously brought a great stage success to the screen with finesse. It has layers upon layers. Hold my coat! I must find those people and do battle.

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  9. This was the film that redeemed Howard for me. I found him deeply annoying in Gone with the Wind (partially, of course, that's the character), bur liked him so much in this. I'd just assumed Bogart got an Oscar nomination for this one! What an oversight!

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    1. Howard and Gone With the Wind were not a good match. The Petrified Forest is prime Leslie Howard and I'm glad it worked out that this role was able to redeem him for you.

      Sometimes you have to wonder what the Academy thinks their job is!

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