Unusual psychological western with a stunningly beautiful audio and video transfer 4 Stars

Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar wasn’t the only noteworthy psychological western of 1954; Henry Hathaway’s Garden of Evil easily matches it while also providing breathtaking Mexican location shooting and a first-rate star cast.

Garden of Evil (1954)
Released: 09 Jul 1954
Rated: NOT RATED
Runtime: 100 min
Director: Henry Hathaway
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama
Cast: Gary Cooper, Susan Hayward, Richard Widmark, Hugh Marlowe
Writer(s): Frank Fenton (screenplay), Fred Freiberger (story), William Tunberg (story)
Plot: A trio of American adventurers marooned in rural Mexico are recruited by a beautiful woman to rescue her husband trapped in a cave in Apache territory.
IMDB rating: 6.8
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Fox
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 4.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 40 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: clear keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 05/10/2016
MSRP: $29.95

The Production: 3.5/5

Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar wasn’t the only noteworthy psychological western of 1954; Henry Hathaway’s Garden of Evil easily matches it while also providing breathtaking Mexican location shooting and a first-rate star cast. While the movie may lack a bit of action in its focusing on the personalities and interpersonal dynamics between its band of leading characters, the film is never less than involving entertainment buoyed by excellent performances and a magnificent background score by Bernard Herrmann.

Frantic Leah Fuller (Susan Hayward) bursts into a Mexican cantina searching for men to help rescue her husband John (Hugh Marlowe) trapped in a mine collapse while digging for gold. With the promise of $1,000 each, four men volunteer: adventurers Hooker (Gary Cooper), Fiske (Richard Widmark), and Daly (Cameron Mitchell), and Mexican local Vicente (Victor Manuel Mendoza) who attempts to mark the trail so his compadres can later return to the site and strip more gold from its hills. While the rescue party is pretty much left alone on their journey to the mine, they know warring Apaches are a stone’s throw away waiting for their opportunity to ambush which will make escaping after the rescue operation very dicey indeed.

In his screenplay, Frank Fenton concentrates not on violent action but rather on the different reactions each of the adventurers has by being in the presence of the alluring Leah Fuller: for Daly it’s pure lust, for Hooker it’s admiration of her grit and determination, for Fiske it’s an educational exercise seeing how the woman can twist the men in any direction to get what she wants. Director Henry Hathaway keeps things moving at a steady pace (most memorable in the first half is the staging of a terrific fight between Hooker and Daly in which Daly keeps getting knocked into a campfire) ramping up the action in the second half when their lives are truly on the line as the journey turns rousingly from a road trip saga to a cat-and-mouse escape scenario. Hathaway certainly allows cinematographers Milton Krasner and Jorge Stahl Jr. to drink in the magnificent Mexican landscapes from expansive desert vistas to the hilly terrain and dangerous gorges they must traverse (and a stunning shot of volcanic residue that comes out of nowhere but is completely real and not a movie invention), and even if occasionally matte paintings are obvious in certain shots, it doesn’t take one bit away from the marvels of nature on widescreen display. Speaking of widescreen, Hathaway uses it wonderfully, from capturing the expansive locations to something as simple as cantina singer Rita Moreno early on warbling her seductive tunes by slowly maneuvering herself from left of frame to right without drawing undue attention to the coverage.

Gary Cooper once again takes quiet command of the screen in his every appearance, and in that fantastic fight with Cameron Mitchell’s Daly teaching the too-lustful lad a lesson without being vindictive or overly vicious and even offering reassurance and a helping hand after beating him handily. Susan Hayward shows her usual strength and resolve as the woman fighting for her man’s life even when he’s given up hoping for salvation. Richard Widmark’s character is the least well defined, and while he’s agreeably wry and has a couple of spotlight moments particularly in the second half, his character is most in need of a rewrite. Cameron Mitchell plays the headstrong Daly with his customary bluster while Hugh Marlowe gets to twist and turn rather agonizingly in the second half of the movie. Victor Manuel Mendoza doesn’t say much but makes a couple of scenes memorably affable (one priceless moment where he’s asked to cut a deck of cards is especially rewarding).

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.55:1 is faithfully reproduced in this beautiful 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is outstanding even in long shots, and while the color is very rich and very appealing, the early cantina scene shows skin tones a bit too hot and orangey, those problems not apparent at all in the remainder of the movie. Black levels are very impressive, and contrast has been consistently applied to produce a continually evocative picture. Engineers have cleaned up any age-related problems which might have been present making for what appears to be a brand new film. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The disc offers three different DTS-HD Master Audio sound mixes: the repurposed 5.1, the original 4.0, and a stereo 2.0 track. The 5.1 mix offers for me the best balance between the always discernible and completely directionalized dialogue, the appropriate atmospheric effects, and especially in presenting the magnificent Bernard Herrmann score to its best advantage. No age-related problems with hiss, crackle, or thumps are present.

Special Features: 5/5

Audio Commentary: film and music historians Nick Redman and Steven Smith along with composers John Morgan and William Stromberg spend the track discussing the music and career of composer Bernard Herrmann. While occasionally addressing other aspects of the movie (the actors, the cinematography) or discussing the studio system, the focus is on Herrmann’s contributions to this film and to movies, radio, television, and the concert stage during his lengthy career.

Isolated Score Track: the memorable Bernard Herrmann score is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0.

Travels of a Gunslinger: The Making of Garden of Evil (13:26, SD): the children of star Gary Cooper (Maria) and director Henry Hathaway (Jack) along with film historians Aubrey Solomon, David Thomson, and Rudy Behlmer discuss the two month shooting schedule of the film and the problems encountered by the filmmakers. Vintage audio recordings of Henry Hathaway and Cameron Mitchell are also utilized to tell the story.

Henry Hathaway: When the Going Gets Tough (11:41, SD): Hathaway’s son Jack remembers his tough, very professional father along with comments from movie historians Larry Swindell, Aubrey Solomon, David Thomson, and Alan Rode.

Susan Hayward: Hollywood’s Straight Shooter (6:55, SD): actress Susan Hayward’s reputation as a no-nonsense actress is recounted by historians David Thomson, Gene Arceri, and Aubrey Solomon. Clips from Rawhide are shown in conjunction with the discussion.

TV Spot Ad (1:05, SD)

Theatrical Trailers (2:54, 2:48, SD)

Six-Page Booklet: contains a couple of black and white and color stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s warm, involving analysis of the movie.

Overall: 4/5

Not a typical shoot-‘em-up western of the period but rather a measured and interesting look at desperate individuals searching for their own individual objectives, Garden of Evil is one magnificent looking and sounding Blu-ray release! There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.

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Matt Hough

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atfree

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Thanks, Matt. Watched my copy weekend before last and was very impressed with the transfer as well as the movie, which I hadn't revisited in many years. It reminded me how much I love Gary Cooper (and Susan Hayward).
 

David_B_K

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Great review! I watched this Blu-ray over the weekend. It was a much better film than I remembered it being. I also thought there was a yellowish look to the skin tones in some scenes, particularly when the three Americans are sitting in the cantina near the beginning. The detail in the mountainous scenes we quite striking; almost looked 3D. Bernard Herrman's score was quite vivid as well.

I've always had mixed feelings about Coop as an actor. I generally like his films in his younger days, but have often found him somewhat stilted in his later years. I could remember him saying lines like "He cheated me. I don't know..how..but he..cheated..me". Watching it again, his character of Hooker really clicked for me as a wise student of human nature who could recognize the dark secrets and glimmers of good that everyone carries. I used to think Coop sort of phoned this character in, but I now see Hooker as one of his more interesting performances. Really an interesting movie and a great Blu-ray.
 
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I think this Blu ray is SENSATIONAL. It takes me back to 1954. Great performers in good films with incredible artists behind the cameras. The photography is amazing. The music score is STUNNING. And it's all there for us to enjoy on this exceptional disc. One of my favorites of the Fox titles on this label.
 
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Will watch this over the next week. Looking forward to it based on this review.
 

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Great review! I watched this Blu-ray over the weekend. It was a much better film than I remembered it being. I also thought there was a yellowish look to the skin tones in some scenes, particularly when the three Americans are sitting in the cantina near the beginning. The detail in the mountainous scenes we quite striking; almost looked 3D. Bernard Herrman's score was quite vivid as well.

I've always had mixed feelings about Coop as an actor. I generally like his films in his younger days, but have often found him somewhat stilted in his later years. I could remember him saying lines like "He cheated me. I don't know..how..but he..cheated..me". Watching it again, his character of Hooker really clicked for me as a wise student of human nature who could recognize the dark secrets and glimmers of good that everyone carries. I used to think Coop sort of phoned this character in, but I now see Hooker as one of his more interesting performances. Really an interesting movie and a great Blu-ray.
For me the cinematography, the score and Gary Cooper are really what make the movie a winning combination on top of all the other talent that was involved, Looking forward to get this later in the year.
 

Billy Batson

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I don't always agree with haineshisway on colour, but yes, no teal in this at all, it's not even too blue. Neutral greys are grey & yellows are very yellow, it has a "look" to it, but it's a movie, not a documentary. I've only zipped through it so far, I look forward to enjoying it, it's one of the few fifties westerns that I've never seen.
 
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haineshisway

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I'm sure the one thing we can be certain of, is that Mr. Zandstra hasn't seen the transfer and is either basically judging screen caps or just making a blanket statement, as he has in several other threads. :)
 

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I'm sure the one thing we can be certain of, is that Mr. Zandstra hasn't seen the transfer and is either basically judging screen caps or just making a blanket statement, as he has in several other threads. :)
I did wonder why he posted that.
 

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You know, it's ridiculous (and somewhat embarassing) how many times over the years I've listened to Bernard Herrmann's score for Garden of Evil, and yet, until tonight, had never actually seen the movie!

Not only was I smitten by the crazy thing* - have already watched it twice - but thought this Blu-ray was a grand showcase for it. Some shots actually 'popped' into ersatz 3D for me...wasn't expecting that.

* Even the estimable talents of Hugh Marlowe...
 
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Watched this one again tonight. A classic Western in every way in my book. Wonderful music, beautiful cinematography, excellent actors, and a story that I think is compelling. Very good picture and outstanding sound quality on this disc. Great special features, including an audio commentary. Probably everyone here already has it, but for fans of Westerns Garden of Evil is highly recommended.