Garden of Evil (1954) dir. Henry Hathaway
Starring: Gary Cooper, Susan Hayward, Richard Widmark
"Garden of Evil" is a late Gary Cooper westerner, from efficient studio goto director Henry Hathaway. It's a familiar genre film about two shady fortune hunters that help a woman find her husband trapped in a mine and then battle apaches during their escape home. This dime a dozen western is only worth a second look for the stunning Mexican locales shot in lush widescreen colour photography
Gary Cooper and Widmark play Hooker and Fiske, two opportunistic prospectors who have stopped off in a coastal Mexican town. They are given an offer of $2000 by a desperate woman Leah (Susan Hayward) to help travel inland and save her husband who's fallen in a mine. For the large fee, the wily pair sense there's more to the task than just saving her husband, Surely enough it's Apache territory, which means a life-threatening adventure. The two men, joined by their colleague Luke (Cameron Mitchell) begin the search and rescue mission.
They follow the meandering trail through the beautiful mountains and canyons of interior Mexico. They do find Leah's husband, but he's so badly hurt he's immovable, and certainly in no shape to fight, fend off or even flee the oncoming Apaches. A number of moral conundrums emerge, which leads to dramatic acts of honourable sacrifice and tragic heroism.
As standard for the genre, not much is known of Gary Cooper’s character. Richard Widmark's Fiske is the gambler who angles to discover his identity and background, but in the tradition of the classic genre heroes he stays aloof and mysterious. In fact, all characters are varied shades of black with their own selfish agenda. Human life is disposable commodity, especially with the prospect of gold and other riches. But when the stakes are on the line, the true heroes eventually emerge.
The lush green landscape of Mexico is a welcomed change from the usual dusty deserts of the Western genre. The film moves through a series of unfamiliar locations - a local Mexican town, "Tepatzlan", the green jungles near Acapulco, the and black volcanic sands of the Parícutin Mountain - and could serve as a Discovery Channel travelogue of Mexico.
The first act is highlighted by an especially thrilling sequence following the convoy's treacherous journey across the sharp cliff of a canyon. The great special effects master Ray Kellogg creates several great epic composite shots making the long drop down look even more dangerous.
Another highlight is the music of Bernard Herrman - a pleasant surprise in the opening credits. In the opening scenes especially, his music adds great suspense and that sense of impended dread which he has brought to his greatest scores. His 'action' music has only a hint of his trademark style, but it trumps of the standardness of the written material.
"Garden of Evil" was a large cinemascope picture, made in those early days of widescreen and aggrandizes the film above its mediocre content. Consider this one for western and cinemascope fans only. Enjoy.
"Garden of Evil" is available in the three-disc 'Fox Westerns" set now available on DVD