The Petrified Forest

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This article is about the film. For the National Park in Arizona where the film is set, see Petrified Forest National Park.
The Petrified Forest
The Petrified Forest poster
Directed by Archie Mayo
Produced by Hal B. Wallis (executive producer, uncredited)
Written by Robert E. Sherwood (play)
Charles Kenyon
Delmer Daves
Starring Leslie Howard
Bette Davis
Humphrey Bogart
Genevieve Tobin
Dick Foran
Music by Bernhard Kaun
Cinematography Sol Polito
Edited by Owen Marks
Release dates
February 6, 1936 (U.S. release)
Running time
82 min
Language English

The Petrified Forest is a 1936 American film, directed by Archie Mayo starring Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, and Humphrey Bogart. A precursor of film noir, it was adapted from Robert E. Sherwood's stage play of the same name.[1] The screenplay was written by Delmer Daves and Charles Kenyon, and adaptations were later performed on radio and television as well.


Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest film trailer.jpg

In the midst of the Great Depression, Alan Squier (Howard), once a respected British writer, now a disillusioned, penniless drifter, wanders into a roadside diner in the remote town of Black Mesa, Arizona, at the edge of the Petrified Forest. The diner is run by Jason Maple (Porter Hall), his daughter Gabrielle (Davis), and Gramp, Jason's father (Charley Grapewin), who regales anyone who will listen with stories of his adventures in the Old West with such characters as Billy the Kid.

Gabrielle's mother, a French war bride who fell in love with Jason when he was a young, handsome American serviceman, left her "dull defeated man" and moved back to France when Gabrielle was a baby. She now sends poetry to Gabrielle, who dreams of moving to Bourges, where her parents first met, to become an artist. Alan tells his story — how he wrote one novel, and then lived in France for eight years with a wife he stole from his publisher, trying to write another — and Gabrielle is instantly smitten with him.

Gabrielle shows Alan her paintings — the first time she has shown them to anyone — and reads him a favorite François Villon poem. Boze Hertzlinger (Dick Foran), a former football player who works at the diner and has wooed Gabrielle in vain, grows jealous of Alan, who decides to leave forthwith. He mooches a ride from wealthy tourists Mr. and Mrs. Chisholm (Paul Harvey and Genevieve Tobin); but after only a few minutes on the road they encounter Duke Mantee (Bogart), a notorious gangster fleeing a massive police pursuit, whose car has broken down. Duke and his gang seize the Chisholms' car and drive to the diner, where Duke has arranged to rendezvous with his girlfriend, Doris. Alan, the Chisholms, and their chauffeur (John Alexander) soon make their way back to the diner as well.

Alan, indifferent to the hostage situation, engages Duke in lively conversation and toasts him as "the last great apostle of rugged individualism." Boze snatches a rifle and gets the drop on Duke, but during a momentary distraction Duke draws his pistol and shoots Boze in the hand, regaining control. Duke learns that Doris has been captured, and has revealed their intended rendezvous location. As police converge on the diner Duke prepares to flee, announcing that he will take Mr. and Mrs. Chisholm with him.

Inspired by Boze's act of courage, Alan has an inspiration: While Gabrielle is in the back room bandaging Boze's hand, he produces a life insurance policy from his bag and amends it, making Gabrielle the beneficiary. Then he asks Duke to kill him ("It couldn't make any difference to you, Duke. After all, if they catch you, they can hang you only once..."), so that Gabrielle can use the insurance money to realize her dream of moving to France. Duke obliges, then leaves with his human shields. Alan dies in Gabrielle's arms, secure in the knowledge that she, unlike the rest, will escape her dead-end existence to pursue her dreams.



Leslie Howard in The Petrified Forest film trailer 2.jpg

The 1935 Broadway production of The Petrified Forest starred Howard, who was an established star, and Bogart, a newcomer in his first major role. Sherwood based the Duke Mantee character on John Dillinger, the notorious criminal who in 1933 was named the FBI's first "Public Enemy #1" by J. Edgar Hoover, and in 1934 was ambushed and gunned down in spectacular fashion by FBI agents. Bogart, who won the stage role in part because of his physical resemblance to Dillinger, studied film footage of the gangster and mimicked some of his mannerisms in his portrayal.[2]

For the film, Warner Brothers intended to cast the more bankable Edward G. Robinson as Duke; but Howard informed the studio that he would not appear in the movie version without Bogart as his co-star. (Robinson objected as well; after playing a series of gangsters in such films as Little Caesar and Bullets or Ballots, he reportedly feared being typecast.)[3] The film made Bogart a star, and he remained grateful to Howard for the rest of his life. In 1952 Bogart and Lauren Bacall named their daughter Leslie Howard Bogart in honor of Howard, who had been killed in a plane crash under controversial circumstances during World War II.[2]

In 1948 Robinson portrayed a character very similar to Duke—a famous gangster holding a disparate group of people hostage in a Florida hotel—in Key Largo. That film's hero was played by Bogart. In his penultimate film, The Desperate Hours (1955), Bogart played another gangster holding a suburban family hostage. He described that character as "Duke Mantee grown up".[2]

Radio and television adaptations[edit]

The Petrified Forest was performed on CBS's Lux Radio Theater in 1937, with Herbert Marshall, Margaret Sullavan, and Donald Meek in the principal roles;[4] and again on the same program in 1945, with Ronald Coleman, Susan Hayward, and Lawrence Tierney.[5][6] Another radio adaptation starring Joan Bennett, Tyrone Power, and Bogart aired on The Screen Guild Theater on January 7, 1940.

Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, and Henry Fonda in the 1955 live televised version

In 1955, a live television version was performed as an installment of Producers' Showcase, a weekly dramatic anthology, featuring Bogart (now top-billed) as Mantee, Henry Fonda as Alan, and Lauren Bacall as Gabrielle. Jack Klugman, Richard Jaeckel, and Jack Warden played supporting roles. In the late 1990s Bacall donated the only known kinescope of the 1955 performance to The Museum Of Television & Radio (now the Paley Center for Media), where it remains archived for viewing in New York City and Los Angeles.



  1. ^ The Petrified Forest page, Internet Broadway Database, undated. Retrieved May 21, 2009.
  2. ^ a b c Shickel, Richard. Bogie: A Celebration of the Life and Films of Humphrey Bogart. Thomas Dunne, 2006. ISBN 0-312-36629-9.
  3. ^ Sklar, Robert (1992). City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield. Princeton University Press, pp. 60–62. ISBN 0-691-04795-2.
  4. ^ "Cecil B. Demille @ Classic Move Favorites – Lux Radio Theater episode list". Retrieved 2009-02-20. "THE PETRIFIED FOREST" 11-22-37 :59:50 Herbert Marshall, Margaret Sullivan, Donald Meek 
  5. ^ "February 2009". WAMU. Retrieved 2009-02-20. Lux Radio Theater 04/23/45 The Petrified Forest w/Ronald Coleman & Susan Hayward (Lux)(CBS)(54:33)  line feed character in |quote= at position 18 (help)
  6. ^ Haendiges, Jerry. "Lux Radio Theater .. episodic log". The Vintage Radio Place. Retrieved 2009-02-20.
    THE PETRIFIED FOREST 151 11-22-37  :59:50 Herbert Marshall, Margaret Sullivan, Eduardo Gienille, Donald Meek
    THE PETRIFIED FOREST 481 04-23-45  :60:00 Ronald Colman, Susan Hayward, Lawrence Tierney. Host: Thomas Mitchell
      line feed character in |quote= at position 116 (help)
  7. ^ "She Was an Acrobat's Daughter." Retrieved December 21, 2010.
  8. ^ [1] Retrieved March 20, 2014.
  9. ^ Rolling Stone, issue 1117 (November 2010), p. 54.

External links[edit]

Streaming audio