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    Garden of Thrills

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Across a 41-year directing career, Henry Hathaway liked to shake things up and took a crack at many genres – Westerns, thrillers, romances, mysteries, war stories, family pictures, adult dramas. It’s no wonder that he worked with like-minded collaborators, including the stars of his brawny, outdoor, Mexican-set Cinemascope Western Garden of Evil (1954). Though he and Hollywood icon Gary Cooper worked six times before (Now and Forever, Lives of a Bengal Lancer, Peter Ibbetson, Souls at Sea, The Real Glory and You’re in the Navy Now), this would be the first and only Western they shared. In Richard Widmark’s case, Hathaway had guided the actor in three splendid earlier roles (his Oscar®-nominated breakthrough in Kiss of Death, followed by Down to the Sea in Ships and O’Henry’s Full House) before this south-of-the-border saddle-up. And it was surely old-home week for leading lady (and expert horsewoman) Susan Hayward, already a veteran of Hathaway’s recent Rawhide and White Witch Doctor. So when all hands came on board (including Cameron Mitchell and Victor Manuel Mendoza) for this lean and leathery tale of sidetracked adventurers who aid a gold prospector’s wife in rescuing her trapped husband at their mine site inside rugged Apache territory (dubbed the “Garden of Evil,” as it was believed to be a home of evil spirits), everyone brought their grit and gravitas to the Mexican location shoot. Scope was a relatively new toy, and Hathaway, with the historical epic Prince Valiant already under his belt, worked with cinematographers Milton Krasner and Jorge Stahl Jr. to fill the wide screen with arresting Technicolor vistas of tropical splendor and desert beauty as they set up the inevitable confrontations to erupt volcano-like from their own temptations within and the menacing hostiles without. Early in the film, Rita Moreno provides a lovely diversion as a cantina songstress and throughout the film, the musical might of Bernard Herrmann (who scored Hathaway’s White Witch Doctor the year before) infuses the action with a majestic flourish that proved he could ride tall in the saddle as well. For an interesting conversation with the veteran Hathaway, read Glenn Lovell’s blog here: Truly an adventure of a high and wide order, Garden of Evil, with a saddlebag of great extras including a Hermann-centric Audio Commentary, featurettes focusing on Hathaway and Hayward, and the formidable Herrmann score on an Isolated Audio Track, debuts on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray May 10. Preorders open April 27.

    Coming Attraction! Tomorrow TT’s soundtrack maestro Mike Matessino tills the furrows of Garden of Evil’s best surviving audio assets to recapture the multichannel vigor of this action saga particularly its landmark Herrmann score.