14 March 2010 | bkoganbing
Women Of The Desert
Heat Lightning was an early work by George Abbott, written and directed by him in 1933 it had only a run of 44 performances in that anemic Depression Era season on Broadway. It was not the best work Abbott was ever associated with, but I'm sure he was grateful that Warner Brothers bought the screen rights in those cash strapped times.
It stars Aline McMahon and Ann Dvorak as a pair of sisters running a filling station, automobile camp out in the American west, very similar to the one Bette Davis and her family was running in The Petrified Forest. They're both a bit antsy being stuck out in the desert without the attention of the male of the species. But McMahon's been around the track a little too often and she tries to steer Dvorak right.
The guy who gave her that ride a few times is Preston Foster and he's shown up with pal Lyle Talbot. On the lam as it turns out, but the sisters don't know it. Foster's putting the moves on Dvorak and McMahon ain't having any of that. Truth be told she's got a bit of a yen still left and the desert isolation ain't curing the yen.
Some other characters pop up in this drama, a pair of would be divorcées heading for Reno with their 'chauffeur' played by Glenda Farrell, Ruth Donnelly and Frank McHugh. Also at the beginning Edgar Kennedy and Jane Darwell are a married couple going west. I wish we could have seen more of them. In fact I'm surprised that Jack Warner didn't recognize a good potential comic team there and made more films with them.
As you can see there are a lot of similarities to The Petrified Forest, but I think that even with the tragedies that befall both Humphrey Bogart and Leslie Howard there, The Petrified Forest is a more optimistic play. Bette Davis does get her chance to leave and see the wider world. Not quite what happens here, but I can't say more.
As compared to some of the legendary work George Abbott was associated with on stage Heat Lightning is definitely minor league. Yet it's not a bad piece of work, definitely in keeping with the times. Mervyn LeRoy did a good job in filling the screen and striking a nice balance between the comic and the dramatic. Very typical of what came from the working man's studio.