Starring: Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart
Director: Archie Mayo
Running Time: 82 mins
The Petrified Forest is an American film about a group of people from all walks of life – including a hobo, an idealistic young waitress and a notorious bank robber – who encounter each other at an isolated diner in the desert.
Despite good potential from the start, The Petrified Forest doesn’t quite deliver a tense and nail-biting film-noir thrill ride as it’s aiming to. However, with a strong cast, a moody atmosphere and a great use of setting, it’s still a thoroughly captivating watch.
So, although The Petrified Forest isn’t as exciting as it perhaps has the potential to be, it does at least impress with an eye-catching setting and strikingly moody atmosphere.
Set in a small, dingy diner in the middle of the desert, you can really feel that sense of isolation and solitude throughout this film. On top of that, the shady visuals and moody, almost stagnant air within the diner lends a small air of tension to proceedings right from the start.
That atmosphere plays a big role in the film’s latter half, when things take a turn for the dramatic, and actually brings about the strongest excitement and tension of all. The screenplay itself might not have the same nail-biting thrill factor, but you can still get a grasp of the uneasy, nervy atmosphere within the diner.
Where The Petrified Forest doesn’t quite exhilarate is in its focus on the relationship between Leslie Howard and Bette Davis’ characters. Though more interesting early on, the almost idealistic nature of their blossoming romance is overshadowed by the drama of the hold-up in the bar when Bogart’s bank robber arrives on the scene.
In that, while it’s still captivating to see the pair develop and grow closer together in the middle of a crisis, I really felt like there was more to be shown of the tension between all of the characters – rather than just the lead duo.
As a result, the film doesn’t quite hold the same gripping tension and exhilaration as it perhaps has the potential to. The performances are strong, its atmosphere is striking and it has a captivating story, but it’s not quite as thrilling as I would have liked to see, which is why I’m giving The Petrified Forest a 7.1 overall.