Seventy-five years ago on this date, Thrilling Days of Yesteryear idol Humphrey Bogart’s landmark role as gangster Duke Mantee was showcased to motion picture audiences in the silver screen adaptation of Robert E. Sherwood’s The Petrified Forest (1936). Bogie had played the role of Mantee in the celebrated Broadway stage hit alongside star Leslie Howard, and when Warner Bros. made plans to bring
Forest to film Howard insisted that Bogart reprise his role or they could find another boy. (It didn’t hurt Les’ leverage any that he owned the film rights to the play.) Although Bogart had been appearing in feature films since 1930 it was Forest that really put him on the movie map and the actor never forgot Howard’s magnanimous gesture; Bogie named his second child (a girl) with wife Lauren Bacall “Leslie” as a tribute to his friend.
Commemorating Forest’s diamond anniversary is a little exercise that I’ve accomplished over at Edward Copeland on Film…and More, so you can read the whole story there—but I will come clean and admit that in revisiting the movie for that essay I’m not quite as taken with it as I once was. It’s a bit of a talkfest at times, and matters are not helped by the fact that I’ve never been particularly fond of Howard or his character (I kind of wish Mantee would shoot him early on to spare me his speechifying); as usual, though, Bette and Bogie are swell, as is Charley Grapewin as the comic relief grandfather. The DVD version of the film (included in one of Warner’s Gangsters collections) contains a Gulf Screen Guild Theatre broadcast from January 7, 1940 that features Bogart as Mantee but recasts the principal leads (Howard and Davis) with Tyrone Power and Joan Bennett; I checked it out afterward and though it was unremarkable it’s worth a listen for curiosity’s sake.