Release Date(s)1954 (May 10, 2016)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Garden of Evil (1954) is a terrific mid-range Hollywood Western of the fifties that’s all the more remarkable for the fact that it wasn’t remarkable when it came out – as film scholar Julie Kirgo points out in her liner notes accompanying this Blu-ray release, at the time of Garden of Evil’s release Twentieth-Century Fox and other studios were cranking these kinds of professional products out nearly every week. Seen today, the film’s originality and craftsmanship are more admirable than ever, and more pleasurable – there’s something deeply fulfilling about seeing an old pro like director Henry Hathaway guide a cast that includes Gary Cooper, Susan Hayward, Richard Widmark and Cameron Mitchell through a stunning Mexican landscape in glorious Cinemascope. With its unassuming artistry and forceful, concise storytelling, it’s the kind of thing movie buffs are talking about when they say “they don’t make ’em like they used to.”
Even when they did make them more often, Garden of Evil would have been a standout thanks to its very adult sense of sexuality and psychology – it plays almost like the kind of Western Hitchcock would have made. The stripped-down story is reminiscent of the best of genre stalwarts Budd Boetticher and Anthony Mann: a tough but desperate woman (Hayward) recruits a group of gunmen to accompany her into hostile Apache territory to rescue her wounded husband, who she left behind in caves surrounded by gold. Over the course of the journey, greed and lust take center stage, and a series of complex but clear shifts in loyalty affect the action as the various characters wrestle with the reality of the situation and their own emotions. The film isn’t as tight as Boetticher’s work or as dark as Mann’s, but has a beautiful, poetic quality all its own as it juxtaposes its characters’ moral wavering against the concrete brutality of the landscape. The majesty of Hathaway’s visuals is matched by the solidity of the performances, which come together to create a rousing yet haunting adventure picture.
The cinematography in the film is extraordinary, and this Blu-ray transfer faithfully captures the flaming reds and oranges of daytime as well as the movie’s stark night exteriors. (If anything, the perfection of the transfer reveals the film’s one slight weakness, which is its unconvincing day-for-night photography – something that looks even phonier with this kind of attention to detail.) Equal attention has been paid to the sound, as Twilight Time provides multiple listening options: a DTS-HD 4.0 mix reflecting the original release prints’ four-track stereo; a slightly more robust 5.1 surround mix; and a stereo 2.0 track. All are flawless, and the preferred mode of listening is more a matter of personal preference than anything (personally I lean toward the fidelity of the 4.0 mix). There’s also an isolated score track, which is particularly valuable here given that the music represents a rare foray into the Western genre by legendary composer Bernard Herrmann. Fans of Herrmann will enjoy the disc’s excellent commentary track by film historians Nick Redman, John Morgan, Steven C. Smith and William T. Stromberg, who focus the bulk of their audio narration on Herrmann and his career. Further insights into the team behind Garden of Evil can be found in a collection of fine featurettes focusing on its production, Hathaway, and Susan Hayward. All in all, it’s a thoroughly satisfying package for a thoroughly satisfying film.
- Jim Hemphill