New To Me This Week, The Petrified Forest, 1936

The Petrified Forest, 1936
Directed by Archie Mayo for Warner Brothers
Based on the play by Robert E. Sherwood
Starring Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart

“I had to come all this way to find a reason,” – Alan Squier (Leslie Howard)

I know, I know. I’m ashamed. Embarrassed. Disgusted with myself that I never saw this movie until last week. I am a failure at classic movies. I must do better! BUT, I found it this week and I can sincerely say The Petrified Forest has leapt to the top of my list of my all-time favorite movies. It’s a special movie and I love it.

Leslie Howard and Bette Davis

I’ve never loved Bette Davis more. Honestly, I’ve never really loved Bette at all, which is probably one of the reasons this movie hasn’t been viewed by me until now. Again. Embarrassing! Pathetic! Bette Davis’s performance in The Petrified Forest has me rethinking my avoidance of her movies. She’s remarkable here as Gabrielle, (Gabby), Maple, the daughter of Jason Maple (Porter Hall), the owner of the diner where the entire movie takes place.  I simply adore her. Gabby is a sweetheart with big dreams and fantasies about going to Paris to find herself. She is so consumed by these dreams that we catch her planning for Gramps (Charley Grapewin) to pass on so she and her father can sell the diner and get her the money she needs to finally go to France. Ok, so not exactly a sweetheart here. The point is she’s is desperate to leave the desert with no real way out.

Leslie Howard as Alan Squier

Alan Squier (Howard) is an intellectual realist that carries the weight of the meaning of the movie on his shoulders. It’s in good hands. (Leslie Howard is just flat out perfect for this role). Alan has hitchhiked his way across the desert after a failed marriage and no career prospects…”looking for something.” He stops at the diner to eat, even though he has no money. He and Gabby immediately ignite sparks. His poetic language melts Gabby.

“What are you looking for?” Gabby asks.

“I don’t know. I suppose I was looking for something to believe in. Worth living for. Worth dying for, “Alan replies.

It doesn’t take long for Gabby to see him as an escape from the life she so desperately wants to put behind her. She’s never met anyone like him and somehow sees a future for the two of them, even though he hints that he’s ready to die. He’s the first person to ever listen to her dreams seriously.

“I know there’s something in you. I’m trying to figure out what it is,” Alan says.

“There’s something in me that wants something different (than the desert). Maybe it’s the French in my blood. You know, sometimes I feel like I was sparkling all over and I want to go out and do something absolutely crazy and marvelous. Then the American part of me speaks up and spoils everything. Then I go back to work and figure out my dull accounts,” Gabby replies.

She’s down, but hopeful, while Alan is depressed with every aspect of his life. It prevents him from mustering the energy to start a relationship with Gabby, though he’d like to. Instead, he heads out the door and back to his journey west. Gabby hitches a ride for him with the Chisolms (Paul Harvey and Genevieve Tobin), customers and the diner, and their chauffeur. She wanted to go with him, but she expected him to go without her. She knew she was tuck in the desert and Alan was just one more chance to change her life and get out of it. Like her other dreams, it wasn’t going to get a chance to work out. It’s clear that she’s used to disappointments like this.

We’re introduced to Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) not long after Alan and the Chisolms leave the diner. And I mean, yikes! Duke is a guy that’s mad as hell and clearly has some deep problems himself. Duke and his gang are accused of several murders and the law is after them. They’re dangerous and on the lam. Not good. When Duke’s car breaks down on the highway, he and his gang points their guns at the Chishom car when it passes them and forces them out of it so he and his gang can steal it. They quickly head in the direction of the diner. Alan realizes he needs to get back to warn everyone.

Gabby, Mantee’s Tough Guy, Boze, Alan as diner hostages.

Mantee holds them all hostage until his mysterious Doris finds them and helps them escape. The movie starts to feel a lot like Key Largo here and that’s just fine with me. This is where the conversations about their places in life begin. Everyone is conversing with everyone else and it’s intriguing to witness where they think they all stand, and ultimately where that way of thinking has taken them in life.

Humphrey Bogart in his break-out movie role as Duke Mantee.

As Mantee sits around and broods a lot, presumably because he hasn’t heard from Doris (whom we never see). Alan thinks out loud about every human condition evident in the room and beyond. A lot of human psychology is processed and the meaning of idealism is explored in depth. It made me think. It inspired me. It all comes together in a dramatic ending. One of two endings that were shot, but this is the ending Howard wanted, and even had written into his contract to make sure he got it.

The Petrified Forest is based on a Broadway play by Robert E. Sherwood. Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart both starred in the play in the same roles they play here. When it came time to cast the movie, Leslie Howard demanded Bogart be cast too. At that point, Bogie hadn’t made his break in movies yet, so this was a big deal to him. The studio gave Bogart the part at Howard’s request and it turned out to be his break-out role. He and wife Lauren Bacall thanked Leslie Howard later by naming their daughter Leslie after him.

I never spill spoilers and I won’t do it here either, even though I’m probably the last person in classic movie fandom to see this one. I really could go on and on about this movie, but I won’t. Discovering it was a happy surprise to me and it was pure joy to watch. I’m especially pleased to have found a role I like Bette Davis in. I always knew I was supposed to like her and admire her talent, but she just wasn’t an actress that drew me to movies like Myrna or Katharine. This movie has changed that and I will seek her movies out for more “new to me” classic films to watch.

“I had to come all this way to find a reason.”

The Petrified Forest Movie Poster

The Hustler, 1961 – Based on the Book By Walter S. Tevis

This is not a story about pool or billiards. It’s a tremendous story about character. Fast Eddie Felson, just happens to be a pool-hustler…

The Hustler, 1961

Walter S. Tevis wrote The Hustler in 1959. The movie, one of Paul Newman‘s first big roles, came in 1961. Both expertly tell Fast Eddie Felson’s  story: He’s a pool-hustler who’s convinced himself that he needs to prove to everyone (and himself) that he’s the best pool player in the country so he can gain the respect and riches he so desperately craves. Eddie tells himself he can beat anyone, Including Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), who is the actual best pool player in the country. We recognize early that maybe Eddie could do it, if he just had the character he doesn’t know he needs to accomplish it. Talent isn’t everything like Eddie thinks it is. He believes beating Minnesota Fats would prove everything. Like the poster says, it’s a hunger that lies within him, and it drives every decision he makes.

“You just want the money. Sure. And the aristocratic pleasure of seeing him fall apart.” – Bert Gordon, calling Eddie out on his lack of character it takes to win.

I don’t like Eddie in the book or the movie.  I’m not supposed to. He has little integrity and no character.  He’s a mouthy, arrogant,  obnoxious brat – one that Paul Newman brings to life brilliantly. The “aw shucks” smiles he invokes to show the emotions Eddie struggles with, and tries to cover up, are perfect. I DO admire, respect and like his adversary, Minnesota Fats (Gleason). It’s evident in HIS manner, language…even the clothes he wears…that this is where the man with real character is. And success.  He’s the one that deserves the respect Eddie can’t seem to achieve. The same thing happens In The Cincinnati Kid, 1965, a remake of The Hustler (in a poker environment instead of a pool hall one), I don’t like the The Cincinnati Kid (Steve McQueen) either, for the same reasons I don’t like Eddie. But I DO admire, respect and like HIS adversary, Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson) for the same reasons I like and respect Minnesota Fats in this movie. In The Color of Money, the Martin Scorcese-directed 1986 sequel (not remake) to The Hustler, I don’t like Vincent (Tom Cruise) at all either for, you guessed it, the same reasons. But, I finally DO get a chance to admire, respect and like Eddie Felson (Paul Newman revisits this role) for a little while.

By the way, there was no real Minnesota Fats at that time. The nickname came about after the 1961 movie when a plump pool shark named Rudolf Walter Wanderone, Jr. adapted the nickname for himself from the Jackie Gleason character in the movie.

In the book, Walter S. Tevis gives us vivid descriptions of dark, gritty, urban (and not-so-urban) pool halls that give it a distinct noir feeling. The opening scene of the book takes place at Bennington’s Pool Hall in Chicago and I swear, I could smell the smoke in the air just reading Tevis’s words. Excellent writing like this continues throughout the book and, thankfully, the visuals in the movie live up to every word Tevis writes in the book. Every character is properly placed in the exact atmosphere they should be in both the book and movie. The reader…and viewer…are too. We never feel ourselves cringing at any misplaced dialogue or setting in either one. I always felt like I was there. Listening, watching and very interested in a man that comes full circle in his quest for respect.

The Hustler was directed by Robert Rossen for 20th Century Fox and in addition to Paul Newman, it also starred Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie and George C. Scott. Newman, Rossen, Gleason and Laurie were all nominated for Academy Awards for their roles. The movie was nominated for 11 Oscars total and won two; one for Best Cinematography and another for Best Art Direction. Director Robert Rossen communicated Tevis’s atmosphere perfectly. The movie follows the book closely, up until the billiards game between Eddie and James Findley (Murray Hamilton) with a few minor exceptions.  It’s then that the book and movie diverge. Bert Gordon’s (George C. Scott) entrance into the story changes things for Eddie. In one way for the book, in another for the movie. The endings are completely different but the same overall message is the same: Character matters.

Sources:

Encylopaedia Britannica – Minnesota Fats
iMDB

Brother Orchid – 1940

Lobby Card

IMDb | Streaming on Amazon

“All my life I was such a guy looking for class. I once went halfway around the world trying to find it because I thought that class was in dough, nice clothes and society. Well, I was wrong.” – Little John Sarto

Yes, Brother Orchid is considered a crime drama, but from where I’m sitting, that’s not an accurate description. It’s not a romance or a comedy either as it’s sometimes listed, though there are elements of all of these things in the movie. No, Brother Orchid is so much more than this. Yes, there are gangsters here, but, at least in the case of Edward G. Robinson‘s, Johnny Sarto he’s one with a much bigger…purer…need in his heart than running a “racket” and building a bank account. He just doesn’t realize it.

Brother Orchid stars Robinson, Ann Sothern and Humphrey Bogart, and features others we recognize too, like Donald Crisp and Ralph Bellamy.  This film takes us on the journey with Johnny to find the happiness that he curiously describes as “real class.” It was directed by Lloyd Bacon for Warner brothers and is based on a story by Richard Connell that appeared in a May, 1938 issue of Collier’s Magazine.

Edward G. Robinson as Little John Sarto

John Sarto is the mob boss of a successful “racket” when he announces to his men that he’s leaving it all behind and putting Jack Buck (Bogart) in charge for good. He tells them he’s in search of “real class” and that he’s leaving for Europe right away to find it.

Before he leaves, Johnny has a heart-to-heart talk with his long time girlfriend, Flo. She’s crazy in love with Johnny and lets him use her in anyway he wants to, just so she can keep him. She desperately wants to marry him after years of “going with” him, but he couldn’t care less.  He doesn’t even consider taking her with him and she’s devastated. To make it up to her, because he does like her to be at his beck and call, he calls a friend and sets her up with a job as a cigarette girl at the Crescent night club. This satisfies thrills her and gets her out of his hair so he can get on with his travels

Johnny spends the next five years traipsing all over Europe in search of that “real class.” But he does everything the same old way – He spends money on nice clothes, restaurants and all things that can get him into high-end society…he even buys a race horse. In the end, he’s broke and the feeling of “real class”…happiness…still eludes him. He gives up and heads back to the city to take his mob back.

The old gang, especially Jack Buck, is not gonna let that happen. He loves being in charge and nothing is going to change that now. Johnny could not believe his old gang was disowning him. None of his former “men” would entertain leaving Buck to go back to the way things were. He was crushed.

“I’m gonna organize a new mob and show you guys.” – Johnny says in a panic.

He went to find good ole’ reliable Flo at the Crescent club where he left her five years before. As it turns out, Flo had borrowed money from Clarence Fletcher (Bellamy), a Montana rancher who was in the club one night, to buy the Crescent club outright. In her typically needy, dimwit way, she tries to help Johnny and Jack get back together and start up the old “racket” so everyone could live happily ever after. Buck plays along with her to get Johnny to meet him, but his intention is really to kill him. Buck takes Johnny for a ride at gunpoint and sends him into the woods with his men where they were to shoot him.

Johnny escapes by slapping a branch in their faces as they walked through the woods. While they recovered, he ran as hard as he could. He’s broken down and hurt, but not shot, when he runs straight on to the front porch of a monastery.

Donald Crisp as Brother Superior

Brother Superior (Crisp) takes him in and nurses him back to health. Johnny was about to discover the “real class” he was aching to achieve.

Brother Orchid is the guide that Johnny didn’t have and needed. Once he meets the monks at the monastery, the movie becomes full of the challenges that occur as Johnny starts to feel the change in attitude he didn’t know he needed. He even backtracks to his old life for a second time before it becomes clear that he’s been going about his quest for “real class” the wrong way. Johnny’s experiences are truly inspiring and thought-provoking: Is it really money and status that prove we’re successful? What lengths will we go to get them? How many people will we hurt? Are money and status really the things that guarantee happiness?

Or, is pure happiness accomplished from helping people instead of running over them to gain money and things that simply never satisfy us? Johnny finally gets it. Watching him get to this realization, seeing the tension leave his face and the happiness appear is what makes this movie feel so good to watch. The meaning of the evolution of Johnny is really what this movie is about.

“I thought I was being smart. I guess I wasn’t.” – Johnny Sarto

Again:

“All my life I was such a guy looking for class. I once went halfway around the world trying to find it because I thought that class was in dough, nice clothes and society. Well I was wrong. I sure traveled a long way to find out one thing. This. This is the real class.” – Little John Sarto says as he enters the monastery for the last time, with a smile we didn’t see until now…the one that explains it all.

 

 

In A Lonely Place – Based on the Book By Dorothy B. Hughes

TCM | Amazon

The movie In A Lonely Place, from 1950, stars Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. It was directed by Nicholas Ray for Santana Productions, Humphrey Bogart’s own company, and Columbia pictures.  It’s worth noting that Ray was married to Gloria Grahame when shooting started, but on the way to divorce when it ended. That seemed to have played a role in the adaptation from book to movie.

The movie is based on the book of the same name, by Dorothy B. Hughes….

IndieBound | Amazon

….which was originally published in 1947.

Both the film and book are noir; they both have a serial killer plot, a flawed male, a femme fatale and paranoia. Boy, is there a lot of paranoia. The movie leans more toward a love story, with some suspense elements, while the book is a flat out hard-boiled crime drama.  The characters are the same: Dix Steele (Humphrey Bogart), Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame), Brub Nicolai (Frank Lovejoy) and Sylvia Nicolai (Jeff Donnell), etc. and the plots are similar, but the endings are completely different.

Aaaaand that’s all I’m saying about that! I hate spoilers, and I’d hate to ruin either the book or the movie with one because both are worth spending time with.

In the book, we learn right away that Dix Steele is a veteran World War II fighter pilot that ends up in Los Angeles. In both the book and the movie, it’s obvious that Dix can’t recapture the feeling of power and exhilaration the war gave him. The frustration over this rules his life. It’s resulted in a pile of insecurities and a huge inferiority complex that he uses alcohol and anger to deal with.  In noir fashion, Dix is convinced that the “system” is against him. That goes for everyone; employers, friends, bartenders, bus drivers and especially women. He just can’t deal with the lack of respect, power and adrenaline taken from him when “the war crashed to an end.” Anger drives everything he does and he can’t control it.

“Without his uniform, he’s without purpose and dangerous.”  – Megan Abbott, Afterword of In A Lonely Place

Dix’s life after the war consists of one angry decision after another and a whole lot of alcohol. It’s sad to watch, thanks to what I think is one of Humphrey Bogart’s best performances in his career, and I’ve enjoyed almost all of them.

Laurel Gray meets Dix in the apartment building they both live in. (On a side note, this Spanish-style apartment building is amazing). One night, Laurel is questioned by the police about Dix’s whereabouts when a girl that had visited his apartment the night she was murdered. It didn’t scare her, in fact it made him more interesting to her, and “likes his face.” It’s obvious Laurel has had experience with broken men like Dix. While she’s skeptical of him at first, she’s sure she can save him. And then she falls in love with him.

Dix realizes after being in Los Angeles for a few months, that his best buddy from the war, Brub Nicolai also lives in there. Dix hopes seeing him might help bring those old feelings of exhilaration from the war back, so he calls him and sets up a visit. What he finds is a very happily married Brub who has settled nicely into his new life since the war. Of course, Dix is jealous. Dix calls the war, “the best years of my life.” Brub says they were his worst. Oh, and Brub just happens to be the detective that’s investigating the murders of young girls that’s terrorizing the city.

After being let down by Brub’s way of life and lack of love for the war, Dix turns his attention to Laurel. He tries desperately to recreate Brub’s life for himself with Laurel. For a while, we all believe he can do it.

“I was born when you kissed me, I died when you left me. I lived a few weeks while you loved me.” – he tells her.

We follow Dix through loneliness and excruciating anger. The contrast between Dix and Brub’s lives is stark evidence of the self-hatred that Dix has developed since the war and the consequences that occur because of it. He knows he can never be satisfied with a life like Brub’s, even though he so desperately wants to be. It wouldn’t be enough. Dix flirts with getting caught throughout the story, even that exhilaration would work, but it seems he catches his out of control behavior just in time, every time.

The story is a sad one. Bogart, as usual, is perfect and Grahame is convincing, as usual, as a smart and beautiful femme fatale.  Both the movie and the book give us an interesting psychological profile that can easily consume us.

The book and movie give us a different ending and both are fantastic.