GOLDEN AGE DAZE: THE PETRIFIED FOREST

| February 10, 2015

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So this is what it’s like being a contributor…. Sitting in the back yard by a pool ready to write.

To elaborate: I have relocated to beautiful Costa Mesa, California, maintaining my sobriety in a sea of partying that seems only natural to the state.

These days what keeps me at now 83 days clean and going strong is a daily bottle or 3 of Mountain Dew, Tombstone Pizzas, and a nice bundle of Golden Age films.

The Golden Age of Cinema … Ahh, now there’s something refreshing in the slew of today (Just for Today, I will not see Seventh Son a second time… Just for today). Nothing quite sets the mood for the evening like the soft focus, the glamorous stars, and the Glorious Black and White (I’m the guy who made TWOMBLEY by the way folks, pleased to meet ya).

It’s with that in mind that I’ve decided to start a weekly goal for myself: Relive the glory days of cinema and spotlight a film from an age gone by; when studios ruled the stretch of land known as Hollywood, Actors were not able to freely choose projects, and all you had to wear as a director was puffy pants and a French beret (monocle optional).

But where to begin… I though it best to start in a film that felt most resonant in a time where my mind has been wandering around looking for purpose.

That is the essential point of today’s film , THE PETRIFIED FOREST.

Directed by Archie Mayo in 1936, the film has gained a reputation in history circles as the film that introduced us to the glory that is HUMPHREY BOGART. But that’s not all it is kids, it’s so much more.

Set in the small town of Black Mesa, Arizona, the film tells the story of wayward writer Alan Squire (a phenomenal Leslie Howard) in search of himself in the form of a hitch hiking tour of the hot dry desert. His travels lead him to a lonely Last Chance Diner inhabited by; a waitress named Gabby (Bette Davis), who dreams of Paris and its splendor of culture, a football hoodlum who’s after Gabbys heart, and an Old Timer who’s claim to fame was being shot at by Billy the Kid. The encounters soon enter a tense game when the notorious killer Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) and his gang hold everyone at the diner hostage. As the night progresses, everyone’s desires are exposed at the thought of not knowing how the evening will turn out that ends with Alan Squire making the supreme sacrifice for Gabbys sake and the sake of all searching for purpose in the ever returning world where the ‘intellectuals’ are being struck back by the ‘beasts of pure animal instinct’

At its heart, it is another example of Warner Brothers supreme triumph in the world of the gangster picture. This studio took a one location stage play and molded it into an action thriller that seems the basis for films made in the present by Quentin Tarantino or Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly). Moreover it is a testament to patience, as the film is a talking head piece (as many films from this era are), though that does nothing to detract from the suspense it exudes.

At this time we shine a light on our actors. Lets start off simple with Bogart. According to the history books, Bogie studied the mannerisms of John Dillenger for his portrayal of Duke Mantee, and it shows in his swagger. When he enters the diner, he commands the room with the look and demeanor of a true beast in the thrush of society, where not much is left but survival at all costs… That is until we learn that his dame double crosses him. With one revelation we see the unraveling of a beast into pure and utter panic for the first time in his life. It’s certainly the breakout role in this film.

Then, lest we forget the cool and ‘so-sure’ Leslie Howard. He sees the world as if it is a novel waiting for its exciting conclusion, cavorting in a manner of fear for what he knows humans to be capable of until driven to a certain point. He is afraid because he knows the right answers, but dares not expose what he knows for fear of rejection. Then, as with his beast counter part Duke; Alan Squire, the intellectual, has his own revelation of his sense of self worth, and much like the stories he has read, he becomes comfortable with his fate in a way that can only be described the way the young folks call it: Badass.

All in all, the director, Mayo , maintains a solid stance on keeping true to the stage plays base intentions while throwing in the natural Warner Bros. flare that made their pictures some of the most popular of the era. His attention to detail with the look and feel of the desert scenery is poetic and in many ways shows you the power a beautiful matte painting can have when it’s photographed correctly (cinematographer Sol Polito deserves accolades here as well).

To sum it up, if you are looking for an intriguing battle of the minds centered in the loneliest part of America, THE PETRIFIED FOREST is right up your alley.

Next week we’ll review something else with Bogart in it. Paul Thomas Anderson’s favorite movie as a matter of fact; John Hustons THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE.

Till then, this is Zach Eastman, signing off back to the world of yesteryear to find more gems from the GOLDEN AGE DAZE

Say… That sounds like a great title for the column.

Oh and if you want to buy this amazing film, it’s available on Amazon

About the Author:

Zach Eastman is the filmmaker responsible for films such as TWOMBLEY (Starz Film Festival 2012 Official Selection) and THE BOY WHO STARES. He is also the producer of Matty O Connor's film GUNS DRUGS AND SYNERGY, Adam Jewels award winning film THE ZONE, and Tony Grosz's TWO YEARS SINCE FRIDAY. He has been a frequent guest on REEL NERDS PODCAST and now is one of their contributors.
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