The Petrified Forest (1936)

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Released 9-Aug-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Eric Lax (Bogart Biographer)
Featurette-Warner Night At The Movies, With Intro By Leonard Maltin
Featurette-The Petrified Forest: Menace In The Desert
Theatrical Trailer-The Petrified Forest
Theatrical Trailer-Bullets or Ballots
Short Film-Newsreel
Short Film-Rhythmitis
Short Film-The Coo Coo Nut Grove
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1936
Running Time 78:54
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Archie Mayo
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Leslie Howard
Bette Davis
Genevieve Tobin
Dick Foran
Humphrey Bogart
Joe Sawyer
Porter Hall
Charley Grapewin
Paul Harvey
Eddie Acuff
Adrian Morris
Nina Campana
Slim Thompson
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Bernhard Kaun


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
Italian
Dutch
Arabic
Bulgarian
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The Petrified Forest, despite the packaging by Warner Home Video, is not a gangster film starring Humphrey Bogart. It is predominantly a melodrama, starring Leslie Howard and Bette Davis, with shades of film noir and the gangster genre. Howard plays Alan Squier, a drifter who emerges from the desert to find himself at the Bar-B-Q diner, the last stop for water and petrol for miles. Here he finds Gabrielle Maple (Davis), or 'Gabby' as she prefers; young and beautiful, but bored and lonely, she has no one to really communicate with. Her father, Jason (Porter Hall), belongs to a delusional group of war veterans who meet regularly, believing themselves the last line of defense on this lonely frontier. Gramp (Charley Grapewin) is a cheerful old-timer, who only desires whiskey and an ear to hear his fanciful reminiscences about the time Billy the Kid took a shot at him and missed. And there is Boze (Dick Foran), a big lug of an ex-footballer with an eye for Gabby. No wonder she pines for romance and adventure in France.

    Alan and Gabby immediately connect despite his disillusionment and the her optimism being at odds. Alan has already lived a life's worth; once an aspiring author he is now a cynical and misanthropic intellectual who realises there is no place in the world for his type. Gabby is a dreamer, reading the poetry of Francois Villon, and dreaming of joining her mother in France, a world of imagination and opportunity a long way from the dreary desert of her world.

    Into this mix is thrown a rich society couple, Mr and Mrs Chisholm (Paul Harvey and Genevieve Tobin), and their chauffeur, Joseph (John Alexander), pompous and confident in their sheltered lives, until the hermetic world of the Bar-B-Q diner is thrown into turmoil, confusion, and a fair amount of fear with the arrival of on-the-run criminal Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) and his small gang of bank robbers. Proudly displaying its stage origins, the drama of The Petrified Forest will be played out within the small confines of the diner and its immediate surrounds in the course of one eventful night.

    Leslie Howard owned the rights to the original play, which he had performed to some acclaim on Broadway, and was able to exert a fair amount of control over the production of the film version. Amongst his demands was the casting of Bogart, who had performed the role of Duke on the stage with Howard. It was the mid-1930s and Bogart had been struggling to break out into full fledged stardom, and this is considered one of the important films that allowed him move up from bit parts. It is worth noting that he is actually way down in fifth place on the cast list, and it was Howard and Davis who were the big stars of the film. There is plenty of evidence of why Bogart received rave reviews for his performance of Mantee, apparently modelled on real-life gangster John Dillinger; with stooped shoulders, an unshaven face, and a vacant dead-eyed expression, Duke Mantee sits on a chair above his hostages, commanding attention in the Bar-B-Q diner as if on a throne. He's not the typical gangster, as Gramp explains, "he's no gangster. He's a real ol' time desperado. Gangsters is foreigners and he's an American."

    The film is confined to the single location for almost the entire film, and the gritty and realistic art direction by John Hughes makes great use of the studio-bound production. Shot on studio sets and soundstages, the cinematography by Sol Polito is fantastic. The soft afternoon glow when Alan and Gabby first meet gradually shifts into the dark and oppressive night when Duke and his men take over the diner. The Petrified Forest starts slowly and gradually builds to an exciting climax, carried along by great story and performances.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The Petrified Forest is a black and white film. It is framed in the 1.33:1 ratio, close to the original frame ratio of 1.37:1, and of course is not 16x9 enhanced.

    This film was made in 1935 (and released the next year), so you have to be forgiving of the myriad problems with the source. To have such an old film looking so good is a real treat. However, the problems are there, so we might as well get them out of the way first: scratches throughout, specks, heavy grain (18:56 - 19:20 and 39:16 - 39:27), the odd blotch (65:21 and 76:45), and the occasional missing frame (1:12). These problems are to be expected, and are more or less easy to ignore.

    The shadow detail is fantastic, with very rich blacks throughout, as is the overall sharpness. There is the occasional lapse in sharpness, such as at 38:30, but it is mostly very clear. The style of the film favours a lot of deep focus, with characters framed in close-up, medium close-up, and medium long shot, all within the one composition. Considering the limitations of film stock and camera lenses, it is to be expected that this style would leave some actors slightly out of focus, and looking a little soft. However, this is not a problem with the transfer, and is definitely the intention of the cinematographer.

    There is the very occasional low-level noise, and some faint pixelization, but it is very hard to detect, especially when the source print is already suffering from a lifetime of wear. And there is no edge enhancement at all.

    The subtitles were very accurate and occasionally helpful for muffled dialogue.

    There was no layer change to detect - the film file is only three and a half gigabytes and has probably been placed onto one layer, with the extras on the other layer.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are three soundtracks: English, Italian, and the audio commentary. I listened to both the English and the commentary tracks. Each is Dolby Digital 1.0 encoded at 192kb/s, and both are very clear and free of distortion and hissing.

    There is a lot of talking in this film, as Alan and Gabby have plenty to pontificate upon, from art, to travel, the desert, and poetry. Howard's English accent is very eloquent and easy to understand, Davis is always very clear, and Bogart's drawl is slow and to the point. Every now and then a stray word or comment was hard to pick up, but the subtitles cleared those up easily.

    Bernhard Kaun's score is used very sparingly throughout the film, and contemporary music from a radio in the diner is also heard. However, most of the film is without music, replaced with the howling wind of the desert dust storms that surround the diner. This constant background in the soundscape creates a very moody atmosphere which complements the film's drama.

    This is a mono soundtrack, so there is no surround or subwoofer activity to be heard.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Although not a real gangster film, The Petrified Forest has the same 'Warner Night at the Movies' theme that is found on the other recently released classic gangster film DVDs. This separate menu setup allows the viewer to enjoy an introduction, a newsreel, and a small collection of shorts before the main feature begins. The quality varies, but most are in very good condition despite their age. With the exception of the menus, all the extras are 1.33:1 with two channel sound.

Menu

    The main menu is two pictures, of Leslie Howard and Bette Davis, and of Humphrey Bogart, is 16x9 enhanced, and is accompanied by music from the film.

Warner Night at the Movies (32:43)

    This brings up another menu, which includes an introduction, plus access to a number of the DVD extras, but not all of them, as well as the film itself. (The film can also be accessed from the main menu of course, and there is a separate Special Features menu.) You can select the various extras separately off this menu or you can play all.

Introduction (3:11)

    Leonard Maltin provides the introduction from on the famous Warner backlots, and gives a brief summary of the film and the features that are also on this second menu. His tone is light and enthusiastic, and it provides a nice segue into a night at the movies.

Theatrical Trailer: Bullet or Ballots (3:00)

    This is a trailer for a gangster film from 1936 starring hardboiled gangster actors Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart, and raises the hope that it might also be soon for a DVD release.

Newsreel (3:22)

    The newsreel footage is from 1936, and is predominantly concerned with King Edward 8th in England. He was a popular king after his father, King George 5th died, but soon abdicated (the first in England's history) so that he could marry a divorced American socialite, Mrs Wallis Warfield Simpson. The second part of the newsreel focuses on the American election of F.D. Roosevelt.

Rhythmitis (19:35)

    A very funny short film starring Hal Le Roy and Toby Wing. When a young man is slipped a wonder drug he is transformed into an amazing dancer. Soon he and his movie star partner are performing to sold out shows, but problems inevitably arise when his pills go missing. Le Roy's dancing is an absolute wonder to behold. Well worth watching.

The Coo Coo Nut Grove (6:44)

    This is a Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoon from 1936, and is very strange. Set in a nightclub, there is no discernable plot, just a collection of caricatures of 1930s movie stars, such as Groucho and Harpo Marx, Edward G. Robinson, George Raft, Katharine Hepburn, W.C. Fields, and Clark Gable. Amusing and entertaining, if a little long.

Theatrical Trailer: The Petrified Forest (4:13)

    A long trailer, heavily promoting Howard and Davis from their recent box office successes, then moving into a succinct summary of the story. However, that's not enough, because it moves into a series of clips from the film, some of which provide far more narrative information than necessary, interspersed with big bombastic statements, such as "where nature makes man forget his conscience" and "You'll find yourself caught in a searing blinding tornado of emotions".

Featurette - The Petrified Forest: Menace in the Desert (15:49)

    As with the other Warner classics, a number of cinema historians, academics, and writers have been assembled to provide a lot of detail and context for each film. They vary in their animation and enthusiasm, but the style of editing them together into relatively short sequences keeps it moving along well - there is a lot of information about the film to pack into such a short featurette, so it feels relatively short. Worth watching.

Commentary - Eric Lax (Bogart Biographer)

    Eric Lax has scripted the vast majority of his commentary which is why it is so dull for the vast majority of the film. At the halfway point he even starts to read, possibly from his own work, even though he is giving a scene-specific commentary. This is not the way to give a good commentary. On the plus side, there is a vast amount of historical and biographical information about the film and the leading actors. Lax reports the problems of casting, how Bogart almost lost his star-making role to E.G. Robinson, the development of the project from its stage origins, and many other facts associated with the production. He knows his material very well and it would have sounded far more interesting if presented in a more conversational and anecdotal voice, rather the dry lecture he provides. Unless you're really keen on this kind of information (in which case you might prefer to actually read a proper biography), then it is best to give this commentary a miss.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 disc seems to be identical to the Region 1 (which was released in February 2005), with the only exception being the languages and subtitles included. Even the menus are identical.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     Since the Region 4 disc only misses out on the Spanish subtitles, and everything else seems to be identical, our disc is the one to go for.

Summary

    The Petrified Forest is a moving melodrama from the mid 1930s, incorporating elements of the gangster genre, with three great performances by Howard, Davis, and Bogart. If you like old black and white films then The Petrified Forest, and the DVD treatment it has received, should be one on your list.

    The video quality is very good for a film which is almost 70 years old.

    The audio quality is also very good, and is crisp and clear with no distortion.

    The extras are very enjoyable and the "Warner Night at the Movies" format enhances the enjoyment of the film.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Michael Cohen (read my bio)
Sunday, October 02, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPhilips 860, using RGB output
DisplaySony 76cm FD Trinitron WEGA KV-HX32 M31. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio Decoderbuilt in.
AmplificationSherwood
SpeakersSherwood

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Region 1 extras - jake
re: r1 extras - darren