Humphrey Bogart’s Oscar Snub

This post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club. It runs Feb. 1 – Mar. 3, in conjunction with Turner Classic Movies’ 31 Days of Oscar.

A grumpy Humphrey Bogart don't like no back talk.

Humphrey Bogart don’t like no back talk.

If you came to our house to watch The Petrified Forest, these would be the rules:

  • No talking.
  • No eating of crunchy foods.
  • No requests to interrupt the movie to check sports scores on another channel.
  • Above all, no comments about the lack of Academy Award nominations.

You heard us. No Oscar nominations and certainly none for Best Supporting Actor.

Why are we going on about this? Because The Petrified Forest is our favourite Humphrey Bogart performance, and we’re using this Oscar season to take a stand – darnit – seventy-seven years after the fact.

Bogart plays (surprise!) a gangster in this film, a character that was loosely based on real-life gangster, John Dillinger. Bogart apparently studied Dillinger’s movements and speech patterns and incorporated them into his brilliant interpretation of a desperate outlaw.

The film takes place in a roadside gas station/cafe near Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park; a place described as “a miserable little service station on the outskirts of nowhere.” A winsome Bette Davis is Gabrielle Maple, the daughter of the proprietor. She dreams of a life filled with poetry and beauty and resents being a roadside hamburger waitress, stuck in an actual and metaphorical desert. Enter Leslie Howard, a drifter with the soul of a poet who stumbles upon the cafe and steals Davis’ heart.

The film’s philosophical themes of destiny, love and unfulfilled dreams are brought into sharp focus when a notorious gangster, Duke Mantee (Bogart), bursts into the cafe with heavily-armed men. The gang takes the cafe hostage as they hide from police and wait for confirmation of a rendezvous point.

Bogart is chilling as Duke Mantee. You believe it would be less trouble for him to kill you than to look at you. His speech is rough but he is calculating; he realizes what you’re capable of before you do yourself.

And yet, Bogart’s character has a soft spot for one of the hostages, Davis’ crusty Gramp (Charley Grapewin), whom Bogart has nicknamed “Pop”. In one scene,  Howard makes a distasteful suggestion to the aged Grapewin. The comment pushes Bogart to his feet and he snaps, “Whaddya mean, talking to an old man like that?” The gangster, who has threatened to kill everyone, is now protecting an old man’s dignity.

In another scene, Bogart refuses to allow Grapewin a drink because Davis has forbidden it. When a character is pouring whiskey, Grapewin holds out his glass. Bogart responds, almost begrudgingly, “Don’t give it to him. The girl says he oughtn’t to have it.” The way Bogart says it, you can tell he’s disgusted that he has shown public affection for the old man, but he can’t help it.

Later, when Bogart learns of a betrayal, you can feel his shock and pain upon hearing the news and, despite yourself, you feel an unexpected surge of sympathy towards him.

Leslie Howard told Warner Bros. that he would not appear in The Petrified Forest if they cast someone other than Bogart in the role of Duke Mantee. (The two had appeared together in the Broadway version.) Luckily for us, Howard made a shrewd decision – and we are left with one of the finest performances in classic film.

Academy Award Nominations (1936):

  • None
  • Not that we’re bitter about this

The Petrified Forest – starring Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart. Directed by Archie L. Mayo. Written by Charles Kenyon and Delmer Daves. Warner Bros. Pictures, 1936, B&W, 83 mins.

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35 comments

  1. Thank you for this reminder — and you’re right that this was a terrible snub by the Academy! I was reading our review and wondering why it’s been so long since I last saw this movie, something I think pretty much every time I come here. Well, not anymore! I just created a Pinterest board for movies to watch. Frankly, I foresee you as a major contributor. Next time I’m bemoaning that there’s nothing to watch on TV, I’ll go to my board, pick out a movie, and take advantage of my NetFlix subscription. Thanks for today’s movie and for all of the ones you’re sure to give me in the future. :)

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    1. Thanks for your kind comments, John, and I think a Pinterest board is a great idea! I have movie Must See List, but some of it’s on my phone, some on scrap paper, some in an old daytimer, etc. Having them all in one place on Pinterest is a great idea.

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  2. Bravo! Its about time someone stood up for this epic performance from Bogart and I for one agree with you. I was watching Bogart last night in “High Sierra ” and thought about how similar his character is to Duke in “Petrified “. He was so good that he had to steal from himself for future roles. Thanks for a stunning post that brought a smile to my face.

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      1. I just finished watching “The Petrified Forest” yet again and you have me convinced. Bogart is just incredible. The overall film is great, but Bogart is the highlight. The interactions between Howard and Bogart are electrifying. They are like-minded men from different worlds and i love every second they are together. Thanks for inspiring me to pull this phenominal film out, to enjoy once again.

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  3. I can’t believe I haven’t seen this one either! Ugh!! Anything with Humphrey Bogart is my kind of movie. Must. Find. STAT.

    Love your review, R.A. :) As always.

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  4. My own next entry focuses on a few films ignored by Oscar and I cannot believe I forgot about The Petrified Forest although, after reading this, I’m glad I did. Wonderful entry written with appropriate outrage! I’m not sure I consider this Bogie’s greatest performance but he’s wonderful as Mantee. Great going, R. A.!
    Thanks much for taking part in the blogathon.

    Aurora

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  5. I had a flashback to the first time I watched “The Petrified Forest” on TV when I was but a child. Silence was the rule in our house while the movie was on – decreed by mother, a huge movie fan (particulary of Bette D.) and particularly of this film. I remember thinking Duke Mantee was terrifying . I’m sure I didn’t quite realize (yet) that the actor who portrayed him was the same fellow who played Rick in “Casablanca” and Charlie Allnut in “The African Queen.”

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    1. Ha ha – I am with your mother about the rule of silence during this movie. The fact that you would be scared of Bogart as Duke Mantee, and that you would remember that is more evidence of his acting ability. Stupid Academy!

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  6. Great piece – I do love Bogart in this film and, although I don’t warm to Howard’s performance so much, it’s good to know that he insisted on Bogart for the part. The way the claustrophobia builds up all through this movie is unforgettable. I also like your house rules, shame a few cinemas don’t introduce them.

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  7. Your criteria for quiet while watching the film reminds me of mine while Robert Osborne is speaking!
    I haven’t seen this movie in awhile, but recall thinking everyone did an excellent job in the film.
    I wonder sometimes with people like Bogart, that though they were great people, the fact that they primarily played gangsters made them left off the nomination list.
    Also, I love reading about when stars demand for others to have good roles, such as Howard and Bogart in this movie.
    Great article!

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    1. I have often wondered about actor not getting nominated for an award because of the roles they play. Will have to look into this – would make a great post!

      I laughed when you talked about needing silence when Robert Osborne is talking – me too! Thanks for visiting.

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      1. I recently started dating someone and we were watching something I recorded off of TCM. He started talking as Robert was talking so I paused, waited for him to finish and then had to explain the R.O. rules LOL

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  8. Love this…too right, was Bogart snubbed! Guess he’s in good company along with Richard Burton, Montgomery Clift, Kirk Douglas, Cary Grant, Robert Mitchum, Barbara Stanwyck and Richard Widmark (can you believe none of these stars ever won an Oscar? Shameful.)

    For years, Bogart was my favorite actor (now he’s been ever so slightly eclipsed by John Wayne). This is just one of many terrific performances by him, though it’s not my favorite (I prefer him as the conflicted guy who always comes down on the right side at the end).

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    1. Wow – that is quite a list of people who never won an Oscar! Incredible.

      As for John Wayne, I am a pretty big fan too. I like that the bad guys always get what is coming to them, because it is so unlike real life.

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  9. I had no idea Bogart based Duke on Dillinger! What a great factoid. The thing about him in the Petrified Forest is how contemporary and real he seems. Leslie Howard is so actor-ish. Bogart is fabulously unlikeable, just as he should be. I admire how real and daring that performance was.

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  10. Ruth, I’m constantly shocked and dismayed at the many Oscar-worthy performances that were overlooked! While it’s a shame that our man Bogart didn’t get an Oscar-nomination for THE PETRIFIED FOREST, at least he got nominations and at least one Oscar for his astounding performance, and he became one of the most iconic actors ever, bless him. By the way, watching movies at your home sounds awesome – good for you and your family! :-D

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    1. Your comment reminded me of a (true??) story about John Wayne. On the night he received the Oscar for TRUE GRIT, he started drinking then went over to Richard Burton’s place. When Burton answered the door, Wayne shoved the Oscar at him and said, “You deserve this, not me.”

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      1. That story is recounted in Furious Love, the wonderful Taylor/Burton bio, and it’s based on Burton’s diaries. It was a party at the Burton’s bungalow (how Hollywood!) and Burton was trying very hard *not* to drink and he was more overwhelmed by the smell of booze on Wayne’s breath than he was by the generosity.

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  11. I thought every performance in The Petrified Forest was fine or better except for Bogart’s. He emphasizes every syllable of every word and galumphs like a drugged orangutan. (Maybe that’s what Dillinger did, but aping isn’t acting.) Makes me appreciate the other actors (particularly Bette Davis)–as well as Bogie’s own great work in his starring roles–all the more.

    Of course, the script doesn’t help Bogie much–giving him vague motivation and unremarkable lines. The Desperate Hours does a much better job with the plot of a hunted gangster holding a family hostage while waiting for his woman, and Bogie’s awesome in it.

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    1. *gasp!* You don’t think Bogie’s performance was Oscar-worthy?! I did like your phrase” galumphs like a drugged orangutan”. LOL!

      I agree with you re: “The Desperate Hours”. That is one tense movie!

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