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"The Petrified Forest", with Leslie Howard and Bette Davis, is a Psychological Thrill

By E.h. B.

"The Petrified Forest," now showing at the Metropolitan, is a singular picture, in that it not only shows thinking on the part of the producers, but also demands thinking from the naturally lethargic audience. There is none of that luxurious relaxation, which has been a large factor in making the cinema the beloved institution that it is. Nevertheless, the audience seems to like the thorough intellectual drubbing it receives, and everyone comes out engrossed in subtle psychological speculation.

Fixed Locale; Moving Plot

The plot moves fast in the development of character and in the tautening of dramatic strains, but in locale it stays put on the edge of the great Arizona desert. Leslie Howard, an effete poet who believes himself an anachronism, a petrified stump i the midst of a petrified forest, comes upon a little bar-b-q roadhouse, the scene of all the action. There he finds Bette Davis, who confesses with an air of braggadocio passing for humility that she is nothing but a desert rat. At the same time she cannot forget that she is half French because her father fought in the war; she reads Francois Villon because she like him although she cannot pronounce his name; and she paints pictures that Leslie considers full of dynamic possibilities.

Bette is enthralled by Leslie's dying splendor, because so far she has known only a primeval lump of brawn that plays football. And Leslie in turn looks wistfully upon her eager energy. But nothing would come of it all if it weren't for the entrance at this point of Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart), a savage killer who reminds the granddaddy in the picture of Billy the Kid and the other old-time desperadoes. The Duke imposes a reign on terror on the little roadhouse, and precipitates all sorts of emotional shifts, strains, and crises. Leslie decides that he admires the adamantine killer as the last of the rugged individualists and a kindred petrified stump; also he decides that he loves Miss Davis.

Enigmas Follow Climax

But Uncle Sam is closing in on the Duke with a vengeance. Tenser and tenser becomes the rack on which everybody including the audience is strung, until there comes the inevitable snap. Startling things happen in the denouement, to the staccato tune of rifle and machine-gun fire. And as you leave the theatre, slightly stupefied, you find all sorts of psychological problems of intricate relationships and true identities clamoring for solution. You also find six or sever characters impressed indelibly if somewhat confusedly upon you memory, which is saying a lot for a movie. "The Petrified Forest" is an awesome, vibrant picture, and a new experience for anybody.

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