When patrons filed into Manhattan’s 5,920-seat Roxy Theater to watch the new Garden of Evil (1954) 64 years today, they were prepared to enjoy several familiar and reliable elements. Stars Gary Cooper, Susan Hayward and Richard Widmark had already made their mark on the Western screen frontier, and Hayward, Widmark and director Henry Hathaway had previously celebrated their debuts in the widescreen Cinemascope format, with its exotically expansive 2.55:1 aspect ratio, via their respective 1954 projects Demetrius and the Gladiators, Hell and High Water (a Twilight Time title) and Prince Valiant. Garden of Evil wasn’t even the first Western to unfurl across the Cinemascope screen; Warner Bros.’ The Command and Twentieth Century Fox’s River of No Return had already staked out the territory. What lifted Garden of Evil, the tale of three soldiers of fortune hired to accompany a trapped miner’s wife into hostile wilderness territory to recover the lady’s husband and a horde of gold, into new thrill realms for its audiences were two distinctive elements. First, Fox exercised, in the view of The New York Times’ A.H. Weiler, “the good judgment to transport their Technicolor cameras to strange but impressively scenic Mexican locales, which give mood, color and authority to a basically lean adventure.” (Milton Krasner and Jorge Stahl Jr. were the cinematographers.) Second, the virtuoso composer Bernard Herrmann was enticed to create, in the dynamism of enveloping four-track stereophonic sound pumped out through the movie palace’s state-of-the-art speaker system, an enthralling musical score which explored the potential of instrumental placement and recording engineering. It would be Herrmann’s only Western, and the film’s most often discussed and celebrated asset.
In his splendid notes for the captivating Bernard Herrmann at Twentieth Century Fox comprehensive CD set (produced by TT co-founder Nick Redman and film music expert Robert Townsend, and largely remixed and restored by resident TT audiophile Mike Matessino), film historian and Herrmann biographer Steven C. Smith writes: “His score manuscript – written over 48 days in March-April of 1954, includes careful notation for the placement of microphones and musicians – the latter including nine percussion players, an organist, and an expanded clarinet section. The six-note motif introduced in the brass in the Prelude will be the score’s malevolent idee fixe, swiftly establishing the single-minded pursuit of gold that drives the characters, while building a wall of tension that pervades the soundtrack. The spacious intervals in this motif also suggest the towering landscapes, from mountains to volcanoes, that will threaten our heroes as much as any human antagonist. Siesta offers a brisk Habanera that anticipates the hypnotic, alluring Carlotta theme in Vertigo four years later (obsession to the point of self-destruction is a theme in both films). Another favorite device – the ancient Gregorian chant Dies irae – surfaces in the form of ghostly muted trumpets in The Church, as our trio of adventurers discover an abandoned mission. Throughout the film, orchestral color is as varied as the hues onscreen, intensified by the carefully planned relationship between musician and microphone. As Herrmann later observed, ‘sound film permitted…a musical close-up, analogous to the way a camera can give a visual close-up…A lone clarinet playing one note in a concert hall means nothing; but given the way you can manipulate its sound on a soundtrack, it can be made to take over the whole auditorium.’ Such cues as The Circle and Fuller’s Plan, with their call-and-response woodwinds and brass, illustrate just how effectively Herrmann uses his electronic tools for maximum effect; while The Chase gives the score’s enhanced percussion section its most thrilling showcase.” TT’s extensively arrayed Garden of Evil hi-def Blu-ray features that formidable Herrmann score on an extensively reconstructed 3.0 Isolated Music Track from Matessino; an Audio Commentary with Redman, Smith and fellow experts John Morgan and William T. Stromberg thoroughly analyzes the film and Herrmann’s work; and three carefully curated 5.1, 4.0 and 2.0 surround sound tracks for the sonic experience of one's choice. Plus, a featurette on the film’s production and profiles of Hayward and Hathaway add informative layers of entertainment. Just pop in the disc to take your Roxy center auditorium seat for a grand experience.