HEAT LIGHTNING. Warner Brothers, 1934. Aline MacMahon, Ann Dvorak, Preston Foster, Lyle Talbot, Glenda Farrell, Frank McHugh, Ruth Donnelly, Jane Darwell, Edgar Kennedy. Based on a play by Leon Abrams & George Abbott. Director: Mervyn LeRoy.

   There is some similarity between Heat Lightning and the much more famous The Petrified Forest, but the latter came along later (1936) and the plots (in my opinion) diverge rather quickly. But if you’re familiar with the later film, see how much alike the settings are: Heat Lightning takes place in the middle of the Mohave desert and an isolated gas station/restaurant/tourist camp is miles from the nearest town.

   Two women, sisters, own the place. The older (and wiser) has a past she would like to think is forgotten (Olga, played by the efficient but rather glum and weary-looking Aline MacMahon), while Myra (Ann Dvorak) is looking forward to a future involving men and romance that she’s not likely to have, not as long as her older sister has any say about it.

   For such an isolated location, there is a lot of traffic that goes by, but perhaps because it is one of those places that a sign saying “Last Gas for 20 Miles” is the absolute truth. Some come in, add water to a radiator, gas up and have a couple of Cokes (for a grand total of $3.65) before heading off again, while others hang around for a while.

   The latter include a pair of fleeing would-be bank robbers — or make that killers, since at least one guard was killed in the process — one of whom knows Olga from before; and in fact they knew each other very well. Also staying overnight are two wealthy divorcees (Glenda Farrell, Ruth Donnelly) returning from Reno, along with their hardworking chauffeur (Frank McHugh), who on occasion is called upon to do other jobs as well.

   Criminals on the run, an old flame, and two rich women make for a combustible situation, and the 63 minutes of running time is almost not enough to fit it all in. This was one of the last movies made before the Code came into being, and while there are no overt sexual scenes, there are several times there is no doubt what was going on when the cameras weren’t around and weren’t rolling.

   The overall plot may be a little predictable, but not entirely. How will Olga get rid of George (Preston Foster) or will she fall for him again? The drama itself unfolds in fine fashion, with more than a dash of humor saucily tossed into the boiling kettle, figuratively speaking. The photography and staging are more than fine, enhanced by the equally fine remastering job done to the film before it was recently released on DVD.