The Petrified Forest (1936)

Leslie Howard, the soothing actor, and the enigmatic Bette Davies were the top-billed actors in this Robert E Sherman’s adapted play, and my question was – Where was Bogie?

Humphrey Bogart’s name appeared much later. There was talent, no doubt, and before this role, there were ten other productions he was part of, though none of those roles stood out. He was present – playing second fiddle or a character role, and I bet the top billing status was a long way ahead.

I belong to a generation who have seen many Humphrey Bogart movies in which he has been the main draw. The descending order of his filmography I have gone about watching made me realise how far I was getting away from his stardom. He was at the peak when I watched him first, and now after a lot of movies, I have seen merely a reflection of his future status or under the shadows of other stars, namely James Cagney.

And when I watched ‘The Petrified Forest,’ I somewhat knew this was where it all began for him. Since then, he has grown as an actor, slowly moving away from being the gangster to being a hero and a star of whom there is a rich legacy.

The movie itself is a journey – a conversation between individuals about their pasts, experiences, dreams, and shortcomings.

Set in the backdrop of a region where the scientific process of ‘permineralisation’ is evident. Trees are mostly found in fossils – petrified wood highlighting the years of reaction turning the wood into stone-like structures. This is ‘The Petrified Forest’ in Arizona, and the story begins and ends at the little service station called ‘Petrified Forest Bar-B-Q’ on the edge of nowhere.

A battered intellectual nomad, formerly a writer, is shown walking on the dusty roads of Arizona. From his looks, it seemed his best days were past him – Alan Squier, played by Leslie Howard, strolled through the roads on a mission to explore and find a purpose for his well-equipped brains.

He recognises the triumph of his thumb and its sideways motion with which he travelled lengths and breadths of America. He was hungry, impoverished and among his possessions were a rucksack with his passport, insurance papers, and a map.

By the time he had got himself to the embarrassing situation of having no money, the movie was half-way through. By this time, he had an admirer – no, a lover, Gabrielle Maple, played by Bette Davies, which left her blue-collared employee and former football (American) player Boze in distaste and jealous of Alan.

Gabrielle is the daughter of the diner owner Jason Maple and of Gramp Maple, who was not shy in telling the customers about being missed by ‘Billy the Kid’ once. Gabrielle was born to a French mother who currently lived in Bourges, France, after getting bored of her life in Arizona. Gabrielle assists her father and dreams of being an artist in France, someday!

Words have their magic and the power of attraction towards human beings. When these words always flow in any conversation, one can fall in love hopelessly.

Alan was eloquent in what he thought about life and the poetry collection of François Villon, a 15th-century French poet to which Gabrielle was hooked. He requests her to narrate some of the lines –

Such good I wish you! Yea, and heartily
I am fired with hope of true love’s meed to get;
Knowing love writes it in his book; for why,
This is the end for which we twain are met.

An awkward silence followed by more lines –

Seeing reason wills not that I cast love by
Nor here with reason shall I chide or fret
Nor cease to serve, but serve more constantly;
This is the end for which we twain are met.

While she showed him her artworks and the paintings, he talked about his experience, past life, strange marriage to a wealthy woman, writer’s block while living in Riviera, and the separation.

On the other hand, his words cast a spell on her to the extent that she was ready to run away with him taking all her cash; he declined and refused and decided to part ways.

He was on his way on a car with a wealthy couple only to be stopped mid-way by Duke Mantee and his men, who took the vehicle and spared their lives. A few moments later, Alan was back at the diner. Why?

The next half of the movie is about Humphrey Bogart – his guile, rugged looks, and the manner he was introduced made him the terrifying character the movie audience had seen at that time. He engages in a conversation with the rest of the crew at the service station.

After a series of thought-provoking conversations between Alan and Duke – the movie concludes with Alan Squier having found his purpose. He knew his life was of no worth, and his death could buy Gabrielle the tallest cathedrals, and golden vineyards, and dancing in the streets. He dies through a prior arrangement with Duke for killing him, thereby leaving her the insurance money. Alan was in search of a purpose – to live and to die for.

He knew he was in love with Gabrielle, someone worth living for and worth dying for.

Like I mentioned before, the movie took Humphrey Bogart to the next level, and this was possible because of Leslie Howard’s insistence of Bogart playing the part of Duke Mantee in place of Edward G Robinson.

It has a happy negotiation, which gave Bogie his first break in Hollywood. It was a mere coincidence that the real-life criminal ‘John Dillinger, on whose life is the character Duke Mantee is inspired from, resembled Bogart.

When Bogart’s daughter Lauren Bacall was born in 1952, he expressed his friendship and gratitude by naming her, Leslie Howard Bogart.

Howard refused to appear in ‘The Petrified Forest’ unless the studio (Warner Bros) signed Bogart to play Duke Mantee.

Sign they did and the rest is history!

The Amazing Adventure (1936)

It can be tedious when there are no challenges to earn one’s bread. This is Ernest Bliss’s (Cary Grant) story, who plays a rich man unable to find happiness with all the wealth he has at his disposal.

Depression as a result of boredom being the reason, he consults Sir James Alroyd (Peter Gawthorne), who happens to be more than just a doctor, a philanthropist of sorts. He is aware of Ernest’s depression and suggests getting out of his comfort zone to earn a living for a year on his own.

He also challenges not using the ancestral money and condemns him not being able to live a year on his own. Ernest gets a dose of realism and accepts the challenge, and places a bet of £50,000 for the same.

On the high road to win the challenge, Bliss soon discovers it isn’t easy as he thought it would be. He starts off being a stove salesman and realises the difficulty of being a part of the working class. He understands the big-hearted working masses who give affection and learn a bit about humanity by staying with them. He frequently changes jobs and finally settles in as a chauffeur.

In this amazing quest, he encounters Frances Clayton (Mary Blain), his love interest. He leads a life in which he camouflages his true identity to her. During this adventurous journey, Ernest uses his wealth to help the people in need. Although the challenge involved him not using his wealth, I guess to help people in need, but you are acceptable.

In the end, he does manage to win the challenge and, along the way, wins quite a lot of things that would make him get rid of boredom. A life turning moment indeed.

This movie is based on a theme which standard working class would identity with. Although it is shot with poor technical standards, one can appreciate the acting of Cary Grant. It remains one of the last low budget movies he would be ever part of and also the only film he appeared for a home studio in London.

Owing to many problems, the movie I saw is about 61 minutes, although the DVD suggests the official time to be 80 minutes.

One of the observations was the low production quality, and I was curious to know why.

I read an article that stated UK studios took a lot more time, and they were a step behind in acquiring the technical acumen compared with Hollywood when this movie was shot.

Directed by Alfred Zeisler, The Amazing Adventure was inspired by the novel written by E. Philipps Oppenheim and was released in the US under the name Romance and Riches.

A serial from 1920, The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss is a silent precursor to this 1936 movie. Henry Edwards acts as Ernest Bliss while Henry Vibrant and Chrissie White play the physician’s role and Ernest’s love interest.

In my childhood, I happened to watch a Dev Anand starrer movie Asli-Naqli directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee. This Bollywood entertainer resembles the plot successfully adapted to suit the Indian culture and audiences in 1962.

Suzy (1936)

This is a story where one has love, marriage, accusations of murder, falling in love with another man, World war, and reuniting with an ex-lover. At second glance, it is indeed a movie that contains many themes tied by a heavy screenplay, and we have George Fitzmaurice’s drama ‘Suzy.’

Title protagonist Jean Harlow is an entertainer who dreams big of marrying a rich guy. Luck has it; she falls in love with an inventor Terry (Franchot Tone), in London.

This was the time when World War I was in progress. Early days of marriage, Suzy’s husband discovers her employer to be a German spy. He is killed by Madame Eyrelle (Benita Hume) after becoming aware of her true identity (spy). The blame is put on Suzy, and to avoid imprisonment, she flees to Paris.

Part two of the story takes place when she encounters Andre (Cary Grant), a French aviator and a famous playboy. Suzy falls in love with Andre, and they both decide to get married. Love is a strange thing, and the reciprocations didn’t seem to be present, although they both seem to like each other a lot. Expectations, I suppose.

Andre was the son of a rich French celebrated hero. A palatial place to live, often Suzy is found alone in Andre’s absence. Andre’s father ensures Suzy is well-taken care of, and very soon, they become quite good pals. She writes letters under the pretext of Andre to keep the older man going.

Part Three of the movie – Surprise, Surprise. Terry is alive (he was severely wounded, not killed), and more so, he is Andre’s buddy. Terry is livid to hear about Suzy, and he blames her nature of being a gold digger. He questions her decision to leave him and flee. She takes it as a sponge would soak water without disclosing the accusations she had to bear for his supposed murder.

Part Four shows – Once a playboy, you remain one throughout. Andre’s fascination and slip for women are exploited by Madame Eyrelle, who now need to know more about the war plans through Andre.

Surprisingly Terry and Madame do not recognise each other when they bump into each other. The damage had been done before Madame Eyrelle’s true identity is revealed to Andre. He is killed, and Terry dons Andre’s plane and fights it out, ensuring enemies have none of it.

Part five – A celebrity burial is provided to Andre as Suzy strongly believed, any disclosure of the truth would hurt Andre’s father’s sentiments. Andre’s behaviour was close to being detrimental to his country.

Suzy and Terry reunite, and there ends this drama. The movie has a song, “Did I remember,” which was nominated for the Best Original Song Oscar, tailor-made for Jean Harlow.

Released in 1936, the war flying scenes from this movie were the outtakes from the 1930 super hit Howard Hughes movie ‘Hells Angels.’ Herbert Gorman’s write up on the newspaper inspires the screenplay written by four writers.

Big Brown Eyes (1936)

Eve Fallon (Joan Bennett), upset for having not received the correct judgment that had political interference quits being a reporter and goes back to her other manicurist profession.

Her boyfriend, Danny Barr (Cary Grant), a detective who is equally upset with this injustice, quits the police. Now, they are secretly on their way to find the evidence. This movie had comedy, witty one-liners, romance, and mystery.

Eve comes across as a big mouth and has some of the best lines in the movie. Among frequent banters, Eve and Dan are very much in love. Dan is investigating a series of jewel robberies, and one of them turned severe with a baby being killed by a stray bullet.

The killer was identified, but the system had loopholes and wasn’t punished against the charges. In his way, Dan privately starts a trail on Cortig, as he is convinced about his involvement.

He gets support from Eve as she is always curious and in constant look for any news. While manicuring, she figures the role of a prominent personality’s involvement in the jewel robberies. The missing piece in Dan’s investigation is filled by the discovery made by Eve.

Richard Morey, a local politician, played by Walter Pidgeon, is the main man behind the crime, and he is nabbed by the teamwork of Eve and Dan. Comical performances by Marjorie Gateson in the role of Mrs. Chesley Cole and Douglas Fowley as Benny provide some exercise to the laughter muscles.

Released in 1936, Big Brown Eyes, directed by Raoul Walsh, was an experimental movie considering that this movie genre was limited to Warner Bros in the mid-1930s. Paramount managed to get the bearing with the story and the screenplay and was well accepted at the box office.