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Film / The Petrified Forest

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The Petrified Forest is a 1936 film directed by Archie Mayo and starring Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, and Humphrey Bogart, adapted from Robert E. Sherwood's stage play of the same name, with a screenplay by Delmer Daves.

Alan Squier (Howard) is a failed author who has become a tramp and at the start of the film is hitchhiking across America. He wanders into a lonely gas station and diner in the Arizona desert, where he meets the waitress and owner's daughter, Gabrielle Maple (Davis). Gabrielle is thoroughly sick of the desert and the life of a waitress and longs to escape to France, and she is charmed by debonair, sophisticated Alan. In fact, Gabrielle is so charmed by Alan that she wants to go away with Alan, but he leaves on his own. Fate then intervenes when notorious gangster Duke Mantee (Bogart) and his gang, who recently escaped from a nearby prison, come to the gas station seeking a place to hide out.

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The Petrified Forest was something of a precursor to modern Film Noir and featured Bogart in one of his first starring roles, reprising the character he played on stage. The story was also later adapted into a 1955 live televised version, with Lauren Bacall and Henry Fonda in the roles played here by Davis and Howard.


Tropes associated with The Petrified Forest are:

  • The Alcoholic: Gramp is implied to have been one on several occasions, although Gabrielle forbids him to drink in the diner due to his old age.
  • Anti-Villain: Duke Mantee is arguably this; the more we get to know about the guy, the more he seems less like the cold-hearted killer he is purported to be. Killing Alan at the end takes away some of it, though.
  • Badass Boast: Gramp likes to make these, including a story about how he was the only man to have taken on Billy the Kid and lived to tell the tale.
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  • Big Bad: Duke Mantee.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Alan dies, but Gabrielle is going to get to fulfill her dream and go to France.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Duke does this when Boze grabs one of the guns. He insists that it was only because he's a bad shot.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: After Boze is winged in the hand by Duke, Gabrielle takes him into the back for some first aid. Boze is never seen again for the rest of the movie, not even during the shootout or after Duke's gang makes a break for it.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: More than once, a radio helpfully gives exposition about the manhunt for Duke Mantee.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Alan.
  • Death Seeker / Driven to Suicide: Alan wants Duke to kill him before Duke leaves, because Alan has little to live for and decides that he would rather help Gabrielle continue on with her life by providing her with his own insurance money, enabling Gabrielle to travel to France like she's always wanted.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Duke may be a murderer, but he has no patience for people disrespecting women or the elderly, and has no interest in unnecessary bloodshed. It's strongly implied that he really, really hates killing… though that doesn't mean he won't do it.
  • Friendly Enemy: It's almost a stretch to call Duke and Alan enemies, but they're certainly friendly (well, at least as friendly as Duke gets).
  • A Good Way to Die: Alan, who earlier had indicated he was somewhat suicidal, demands this of Duke, and gets it. Gabrielle gets his $5000 insurance.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Alan is not remotely interested in stopping Duke, he just wants Duke to kill him so he can rescue Gabrielle from a life spent tending a tiny little diner with her bitter old grandpa.
  • Hidden Depths: Mrs. Chisholm, who seems like The Drag-Along before she tells Gabrielle exactly what's been on her mind for the last twenty years.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Duke, to the surprise of everyone except Alan, who pegs him the second he walks in the door.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Mr. Chisholm, rather hilariously with his final scene. At the moment of crisis during the shootout, he turns to his wife and tells her that if he doesn't survive—she should call his attorney.
  • Love Makes You Stupid: Arguably for both leads, but definitely for Mantee. The only reason he runs any risk of being caught whatsoever is because he's in love. Also for Boze, who tries to take on the gangsters out of love for Gabby.
  • Love Realization: Alan has a pretty great one, having already decided to die for her before he realizes he's in love with Gabby. The look on his face when it's pointed out to him is absolutely great, and his response is a simple "Yes, I suppose I am. And not unreasonably."
  • Missing Mom: Gabrielle's mother is a French woman that her father met during World War I. After a couple of years in the Arizona desert she decided she hated it and went back to France, but has kept in touch by letters.
  • Monster Fangirl: A very rare male example in Gabrielle's grandpa, who likes to talk about how Billy the Kid once took a shot at him, and is thrilled to death to have notorious criminal Duke Mantee in his presnece.
    "It certainly does feel great to have a real killer around here again."
  • Nice Guy: Alan. Gabrielle is a female version of this trope.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine: Duke spends a decent chunk of the movie drinking with his hostages. Of course he doesn't really need to kill them, as he's simply waiting to make a rendezvous with his girlfriend.
  • Not So Different: A weird case where the hero is the one telling the villain this. Also weird in that he happens to be right about it.
  • The Place: Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
  • See You in Hell: Duke says "See you real soon," to Alan right after shooting him, clearly expecting to be gunned down in his escape attempt. It's ultimately ambiguous whether Duke was caught or killed, but if he was caught he'd be hanged anyway, so it works regardless.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Both Alan and Mrs. Chisholm have this for Duke, in Alan's case more or less instantly.
  • Token Minority: Slim (for Duke Mantee's gang) and Joseph, as well as the Mexican cook for the diner.
  • The Tramp: Alan is wandering aimlessly around America, hitchhiking. He doesn't have a dime to his name.
  • Villain Protagonist: Kinda. Alan is definitely the protagonist, but since his goals and Duke's are in no way mutually exclusive, both end up filling a protagonist role with no true onscreen antagonist.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Gabrielle.
  • Worth Living For: Inverted. Alan finds something worth dying for. So does Duke. Both start the hostage situation hoping to survive, but by the end both go somewhat cheerfully to their deaths.
  • You All Meet in an Inn: Everyone is brought together at the gas station and diner.
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