Petrified Forest was adapted from a stage play of the same name that had also starred Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart. Howard play Alan Squier a down on his luck writer who has lost faith in his life. He has hitchhiked his way into the Petrified Forest region of Arizona and shows up at a diner where Gabrielle Maple, played by Bette Davis, and her grandfather are running the business while Gabrielle’s father is out with his band of vigilantes trying to track down notorious bank robber Duke Mantee and his gang. The gang has killed six men and is known to be in the general vicinity. Alan takes a liking to Gabrielle because of her artistic bent and she finds him both mysterious and attractive because of his cultured manner and his knowledge of the world.
There are several other characters, a rich couple and their chauffeur, a gas attendant at the diner who is infatuated with Gabrielle and some lawmen looking for Mantee. But the story comes down to the occupants of the diner being held hostage by Mantee and his gang until they are ready to leave. At a certain point Alan decides that he will take advantage of the situation to give Gabrielle the chance to fulfill her dream of going to France and becoming an artist. He writes his $5,000 life insurance policy over to her and gets Mantee to agree to shoot Alan before he leaves the diner.
Eventually the law finds Mantee and Alan forces a reluctant Mantee to shoot him before he departs. Then Alan dies a long talkative death in Gabrielle’s arms. Then she recites some French poetry while still clutching the corpse. Yikes.
There are some scenes in the movie that are amusing. The early part of the movie where Alan is talking about his early life and where he discusses art and life with Gabrielle are pretty good. But the whole world-weary artist tired of living and anxious to die in a noble gesture is absurd and extremely ridiculous to watch. Also, Bogart’s Mantee is a laid on a little bit too thick for my liking. How he got from Brooklyn to Arizona seems odd. Gabrielle’s grandfather is played by Charley Grapewin who was Dorothy’s Uncle Henry in the Wizard of Oz. He is quite entertaining as the grizzled old survivor of the old west.
Some people might be interested in this film as a period piece showing what a stage play was like during the Great Depression and some might be interested to see an early Bogart role. But I can’t recommend it in good faith. It’s just too hokey.