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Garden of Evil

05 Dec

Look at her! Taking four men like us to a mountain of gold.

So says Richard Widmark’s Fisk, and in so doing he about sums up the plot of the movie. In a nutshell, a desperate woman (Susan Hayward) hires four men (Widmark, Gary Cooper, Cameron Mitchell and Victor Mendoza), who are all hanging around a dead-end Mexican town, to accompany her into the badlands on a mission of mercy; her husband is lying trapped in a mine deep in Apache country. What follows is an adventure tale that ties in some weighty themes such as, loyalty, greed, lust and infidelity. There are also some fairly explicit religious-moral allusions with the only features visible in a lava covered town being the church steeple and the entrance to the gold mine. Why, there’s even a crucifixion!

However, the film is never heavy-going and there is more than enough action to satisfy genre fans. The climactic chase and battle with the Apache is especially well-handled by veteran director Henry Hathaway. In fact, the whole thing moves along at a good pace and, at a little over an hour and a half, never outstays its welcome.

Gary Cooper

I love these early scope films from Fox, and this a great looking picture. Hathaway makes fine use of the widescreen process to show off the Mexican locations; some of the photography on the high mountain pass is simply stunning. The score is a bit of an unexpected one, by Bernard Herrmann no less. Herrmann, being Hitchcock’s composer of choice, is not a name you’d automatically associate with westerns. Nevertheless, the combination of soaring and ominous tones fits the mood of this movie perfectly.

There is, though, one very odd aspect to this film. Now, I won’t claim to be highly knowledgable of American Indians but the Apache we see here are the strangest looking bunch I’ve ever come across – surely the Apache never had Mohican haircuts!

That aside, I highly recommend this movie. How can you not love a western with Gary Cooper and Richard Widmark. I think both men give excellent performances, although I may be a little biased since I’m a huge fan of Coop. He gets to deliver the last line of the film while squinting into the sunset -

The garden of evil – if the earth was made of gold, I guess men would die for a handful of dirt.

Great stuff!

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6 responses to “Garden of Evil

  1. Samuel Blaquet

    October 15, 2012 at 9:28 am

    Great stuff indeed, as webmaster Colin says. “Garden of Evil” is a picture I watched repeatedly through the years since I discovered it in my early twenties. I never could get tired of it. Plot, cinematography, acting, action… No weakness, in my estimation. And the way Hathaway introduces the mexican characters at the beginning remains far more satisfactory and respectful than Howard Hawk’s treatment of the same in “Rio Bravo”, for instance. Even the strange mohican haircut of the Apaches never could disappoint me. Brilliant casting. From Coop, as brave as wise spanish speaking ex-sheriff, to almost despicable Cameron Mitchell, flamboyant gambler Widmark, etc. Hayward and Marlowe were quite a good combination too (cf. “Rawhide”).
    If you closely watch films like Anthony Mann’s “The Naked Spur”, Hathaway’s “Garden of Evil” and Budd Boetticher’s outstanding journey westerns (e.g. “Seven Men from Now”, “Ride Lonesome” and “Comanche Station”) in particular, you’ll probably find similarities between them. Trek talk movies, you could say, gathering one woman and four men, on horse back in the wilderness, surrounded by numerous dangers but, most of all, confronting each other at any moment. That’s the kind of western I prefer. Chamber westerns in the open? Hathaway may not be considered as an “auteur” (author), which I can understand, however some of his films could be placed on the upper grade of the Western Pantheon, “Garden of Evil” to begin with – not to mention his noir masterpieces or such a unique picture as “Peter Ibbetson”, starring the incomparable Gary Cooper once again (remember “The Lives of a Bengal Lancer”?). Hi Colin. I really do appreciate the way you talk about cinema.

     
    • Colin

      October 15, 2012 at 9:46 am

      Firstly Samuel, thanks very much for the kind comments.

      Chamber westerns in the open is actually a pretty apt description of the kinds of movies you refer to. Like yourself, I find myself drawn to productions with small, tight casts where the emphasis is on the group dynamic and the developing relationships within.

      Returning for a moment to Hathaway and your assessment of him, I guess one of the crucial differences (leaving aside the question of stylistic flourishes and such) between this director and the likes of Boetticher, Mann et al is the fact that he never became identified so inextricably with westerns. The best directors all had a great deal of versatility, yet most tend to have their reputations founded on their achievements in one particular genre. Hathaway seemed to move from one genre to another repeatedly and altered his style according to the type of movie he was working on at any given time. I quite agree though that he doesn’t get anywhere near the recognition his work is due.

       
  2. Samuel Blaquet

    October 15, 2012 at 10:43 am

    I agree with you. Hathaway’s name is not clearly identified with any particular genre. Nor is Raoul Walsh’s, I’d say. Have you ever seen “Manhunt” (aka “From Hell to Texas”)? French critic (and cinematographer) Bertrand Tavernier considers this opus as Hathaway’s crowning achievement in the western genre and ranks it among the top 15 westerns of the fifties. Which is not my opinion. Besides, I don’t think I ever had the opportunity to watch those westerns Hathaway directed in the early thirties starring Randolph Scott (“Wild Horse Mesa”, “Heritage of the Desert”, “Sunset Pass”). How about you?

     
    • Colin

      October 15, 2012 at 10:48 am

      Samuel, I haven’t seen those early westerns either so I can’t comment on them.
      I think From Hell to Texas is a very good movie. Is it Hathaway’s crowning achievement in the western genre? I wouldn’t like to say one way or another. I have a very nice DVD of this title and I hope to add a piece on it at some point though.

       
  3. Vienna

    October 19, 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Another of my favorites and you describe it aptly, Colin – ” ..the group dynamic and developing relationships.”
    I thought Hugh Marlowe did well with a rather thankless role.
    The terrain and Hermann’s powerful music make it a western better seen on the big screen, but when will we ever get that chance.

     
    • Colin

      October 19, 2012 at 9:08 pm

      Hathaway used the harsh, bleak landscape to great effect in this film and Herrmann’s score is very distinctive.

       

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