Warning: Minor Spoilers!
For being a Henry Hathaway and Gary Cooper Garden of Evil (1954) wasn’t as great as I was anticipating; although the film is notable for being Bernard Herrman’s only score of a western film.
Ex-Sheriff Hooker (Gary Cooper) and gambler Fiske (Richard Widmark) are trapped in a fishing town when their steamship breaks down. They head for the local bar and soon are enlisted by Leah Fuller (Susan Hayward) to help track down her husband, John (Hugh Marlowe), who is trapped in a mine.
Tagging along is bounty hunter, Luke (Cameron Mitchell), and random saloon customer Vincente. For the journey to the mine, it’s fairly physically easy, with arguements, and Apache threats being the difficult part. Then, of course there is the love square with all the guys hitting on Leah at some point or another. Leah, admits while traveling the mine her husband is trapped in used to be a boom town, until a volcano eruption wiped out everything but the church steeple and mine. She explains the priest calls the remaining area The Garden of Evil, while Natives consider the volcano sacred.
Cooper was solid in this role, and was the sturdy hero with strong morals. His character Hooker likes Leah, but knows she’s got a husband to rescue. There’s a bit of jealously for sure, but he pushes it aside when he helps John out of the cave and tends to his leg. Richard Widmark for being the Male co lead, somewhat took a back seat. He was almost a supporting player, but when you’re alongside Cooper, a second male lead won’t be anything else. I actually understand why John Wayne did not star in this film, as he was slated to appear instead of Widmark. As for Susuan Hayward, her character is rough and tough in this picture. Maybe too much so, yet she still gave a good performance. (Personally, for me Hayward films are hit or miss.)
The surprise for me in the film came when Leah’s husband, John, made it out alive from the mine. I was thinking he’d for sure be found dead. It was also a refreshing change of pace he was also found in the middle of the film, rather than towards the end, as the return journey to the town factored into the plot.
Overall, the plot isn’t bad, but the script and execution is. The film has sluggish pacing and it gets to the point where you really can’t care about the characters anymore. However, this film has its merits: the beautiful on location scenery, the actors, and Herrman’s marvelous score. The scenery is just gorgeous, as it was shot on location in Mexico, even the interiors were shot in a Mexican studio. Add in the Cinemascope lens and you’ve got a beautiful canvas. As for the score, it never disappoints. I’ve actually heard this score be compared to Herrman’s 1958 work on Vertigo- but that’s not a bad thing!
Overall, this film was interesting but nothing spectacular. I’m glad INSP network aired it, as it had been in my watchlist for a while! The stars are great in their parts, and the scenery is amazing. Furthermore, hearing Herrman’s only western score is definitely an essential!
LISTEN to Herrman’s score!