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The Petrified Forest


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Does any one else think that The Petrified Forest has some noir-like qualities? Ive heard some say its an early Noir. I think Bette Davis is wonderful in the film along with Leslie Howard and of course Bogart as Duke Mantee. As far as noir goes im not sure if it can be considered noir at all. Maybe just a gangster film or drama? Someone help me out here.......

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I think a true noir film should have a lot of side lighting, available light, unusual light. The Petrified Forest is fairly evenly lit ("high key lighting"). But it does have some norish qualities. The true noirs with the unusual lighting generally didn't start in the US until around 1940.

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Although some people might claim ?The Shanghai Express? (1932) and maybe even ?The Blue Angel? (1930) are early noirs. The director of both was Josef von Sternberg who was from Austria. I?ve read that the noir lighting style is supposed to have come from the lighting in several early German films.

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"The Maltese Falcon" is usually seen as the first classic noir where all the elements of film-noir finally came together; some people may include some of the early gangster films of the 1930's like "Scarface" and "Public Enemy", but I doubt that "The Petrified Forest" would be considered as a noir, a lot of the plot elements are there but the visual style doesn't look very noirish. Another good Bette Davies film that's almost a film-noir (well, if not completely a film-noir, the definition for film-noir isn't that precise) is "The Letter".

 

I haven't seen "The Shanghai Express" but I've seen "The Blue Angel" and its style is somewhere in the middle between classic film-noir the german expressionism films of the 1920's. If you watch "Nosferatu" and/or "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" you can see how the style evolved from these films to von Sternberg's films to film-noir. I was very impressed by "The Blue Angel" BTW, I found the ending to be surprisingly powerful, and Emil Jannings played a character that's as twisted and tragic as any of Lon Chaney's;

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It might be interesting to find some translations of old French film articles to try to find out why the French started calling certain American crime films of the ?40s and ?50s ?noir? films. After all, ?The Blue Angel? could be called, symbolically, a very ?dark? or ?black? film.

 

I wonder if the French did call those early films ?noir?, but maybe the French term didn?t catch on in America until the 1950s or ?60s, at a time when the expression ?film noir? referred mainly to modern crime films?

 

In American film reviews and technical articles about films in the ?50s, the articles most often used the term ?available light? to refer to the films. I was a student photographer back then, and the story going around in film magazines was that the dark moody crime films being shot on the streets of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles were known as ?available light? films because Kodak had invented a new more light-sensitive black and white film that allowed the Hollywood cameramen to shoot street scenes at night with a lot of available light coming from street lights and neon signs. I didn?t hear the ?film noir? French term until the late ?70s or early ?80s.

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I took a look at "Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style" and in the introduction there's the following paragraph; after explaining that film noir is an American style:

 

"This is not to claim that film noir is without antecedents of any sort. To begin with, it may seem strange for a group of films indigenously American to be identified by a French term. This is simply because French critics were the first to discern particular aspects in a number of American productions initially released in France after World War II. They also noticed a thematic resemblance between these motion pictures and certain novels published under the generic title of 'Serie Noire'. 'Serie Noire' and its later publishing competitor 'Fleuve Noire' use the French word for 'black' to desgnate a type of detective fiction. As it happens, the majority of the 'Serie Noire' titles were translations of American novels and featured the work of such authors as Hammett, Chandler, James M. Cain, and Horace McCoy. The association between such films as Double Indemnity, Murder My Sweet, or The Postman Always Rings Twice and the 'Serie Noire' novels -- which was discussed in a typical article in 1946 under the title 'Americans also make "noir" films'(*) -- was all the more apparent because such films were adapted from, and occasionally by, authors who figures prominently in the 'Serie Noire' catalogue.

 

(*) Jean Pierre Chartier, La Revue du Cinema, V.I, no.3 (Nov 1946). The actual invention of the term 'film noir' is attributed to cineaste Nino Frank earlier in 1946."

 

So, the original meaning of a film noir is basically a detective film.

 

The book lists a number of films noir but it doesn't include "The Petrified Forest".

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Vince,

 

Thanks for the information.

 

'Serie Noire' means ?black series?.

 

I didn?t start noticing the ?film noir? term until the late ?70s or the ?80s.

 

Back in the ?50s and ?60s, they were generally called ?available light? films because they used so much available light in the street scenes, the neon lights, streetlights, etc. But that term was in articles written for photographers. I don?t know what they were called among literary people and screen writers.

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Does "available light" also apply to shots during daylight if the sun is the only light source. I guess that's what the Italian filmmaker of the 40's did. It's interesting how different people saw different aspects of films noir, and the genre wasn't officially defined and the term "film noir" wasn't widely known until classic films noir were no longer produced. It's as if you couldn't make a film noir if you knew you're making a film noir.

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The American term ?available light? generally refers to night time and whatever real local light is available at night, such as street lights, neon, etc.

 

In American films shot outdoors during the day, they often use a lot of artificial lights or reflectors (or both) to fill in the shadows in people?s faces so they won?t be dark in bright sunlight. They often try to keep people facing away from the sun so they won?t squint, but they fill in with reflectors and artificial light so their faces won?t be in the shadows. A reflector is not like a mirror. It?s more like a white sheet on a board to reflect some sunlight onto the face.

 

I don?t remember if Italian cameramen used reflectors or not in the ?40s.

 

In the US, reflectors were also used to fill in shadows on the shady side of things like wagons, buildings, and other places in bright sunlight that are in the shadows.

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Leslie Howard is a dream in this movie. It is possibly my favorite performance of his. He really plays the part well; the lyrical quality of his voice and the way his face does dreamy when he speaks really works with this character. And he is such a contrast to Bogart's Mantee; I think that is a big reason the movie is so stunning. It's a great one for sure.

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I think they're both great (Howard and Bogart) and each part plays to their respective strengths - and the contrast between the two makes for some great drama. Bette Davis is great, too, but I've always found Leslie and Bogie to play the most memorable characters in the movie.

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