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GARDEN OF EVIL(director: Henry Hathaway; screenwriters: Frank Fenton/story by Fred Freiberger & William Tunberg/; cinematographer: Milton R. Krasner/Jorge Stahl Jr.; editor: James B. Clark; music: Bernard Herrmann; cast: Gary Cooper (Hooker), Susan Hayward (Leah Fuller), Richard Widmark (Fiske), Cameron Mitchell (Luke Daly), Hugh Marlowe (John Fuller), Víctor Manuel Mendoza (Vicente Madariaga), Rita Moreno (Cantina Singer); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Charles Brackett; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1954)
“Muddled, plodding Western that fails in its attempt to be profound.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Veteran filmmaker Henry Hathaway (“Rawhide”/”Kiss of Death”/”True Grit”) efficiently but without inspiration directs this muddled, plodding Western that fails in its attempt to be profound. Instead it meanders over an ill-advised romantic path leading nowhere in all its brooding sentiments. The adventure story, set in the late 19th century, is by Fred Freiberger & William Tunberg, and the screenplay is by Frank Fenton. Garden of Evil’s two best features are that it’s beautifully shot on location in Mexico in Cinemascope and the veteran star actors who keep it reined in on a steady course despite all its ridiculous mutterings about love and gold.

Three macho American adventurers with shady pasts who are strangers, the mysterious know-it-all Hooker (Gary Cooper), the gambler Fiske (Richard Widmark) and the young slimy hothead bounty hunter Luke Daly (Cameron Mitchell), en route to California to prospect for gold get stuck in the sleepy Mexican port village of Puerto Miguel for 4-6 weeks when their boat develops engine trouble. While the men are drinking in the cantina, a harried beautiful American lady, Leah Fuller (Susan Hayward), seeking help, offers anyone in the bar one thousand dollars to return with her to a remote region in the mountains where her mining engineer husband John Fuller (Hugh Marlowe) is trapped by a cave-in at their gold mine. None of the locals would accept because of the Apache presence, knowing ever since a volcano covered the gold mine with lava they consider the area a sacred site and would kill any one who tries to leave the area if they were lucky enough to get their safely. The Americans decide they would rather make some money while waiting for the repairs then stay over in this dead town; the only Mexican to accept the offer, which has now been raised to $2,000 for the Americans, is Vicente Madariaga (Víctor Manuel Mendoza); he’s the jealous tough hombre lover of the cantina singer (Rita Moreno).

The four men contemplate getting either the gold or the lady on their arduous long journey riding on horseback along a narrow mountain trail to the mine site that turns out to be safe from the Indians but filled with jealous strife among the men. Once there, they find an embittered John with a fractured leg, who evidently doesn’t believe his wife loves him even though she returned with help. John mouths off against his wife using him to get the gold, but she still insists the men bring him back to the village despite his bad words and injury. The six return through hostile Indian territory until the only two left standing are Hooker and Leah. What it all means, I’m afraid only the writers know since that part never got properly translated correctly onscreen. Though Hooker knowingly tells us some babble about “Someone always stays to get it done.” Got me what that means; but when Coop says it, even babble sounds important. Though Coop has the best line in the film when he spouts off “If the world were made of gold, I guess men would die for a handful of dirt.” If the film’s theme eluded me, at least I learned about the title’s origins as Leah tells us an old priest in California, who clued her in about this place, told her the landscape was called “The Garden of Evil.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”