Fox Western Classics: Garden of Evil

Fox Western Classics

(Fox Home; $19.98) Fox seems to be running far ahead of the pack this year with its John Ford collections, its upcoming Big Trail / John Wayne package and this box set of Westerns:?The Gunfighter,  Rawhide and Garden of Evil.

When one considers that all three of these films are being offered on a three-disc DVD package that can be had for about $20, it has to be one of the best deals in the DVD world as we know it.

Garden of Evil

This Henry Hathaway picture is an odd and overripe melodrama in which everybody in the movie looks like they were wishing they were somewhere, anywhere, other than on location in Mexico.

Susan Hayward barks her way through a cast of grizzly male vets: Gary Cooper with little to do but react to the scenery; Cameron Mitchell, who was getting a little too old to keep playing the obnoxious whelp; and Richard Widmark, who had to carry the better part of the dialogue in the film by remarking inanely during every one of Cooper’s endless lulls.

Adding insult to inertia, the dreadful Hugh Marlowe plays Hayward’s damaged husband, who the others rescue from a mining accident.

We are told in a bonus documentary that this film was meant to be a variation on the themes of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, greed and gold and so forth, but if it really has anything to offer of that sort, it may more easily be seen by understanding that Garden of Evil was really Fox’s way of providing product for its big leap into Cinemascope. It’s difficult to genuinely appreciate all the grand Mexican vistas on the small screen, compared to what audiences saw in 1954, but the film does have its moments.

One of the unique elements of the movie is that it carries a score by the brilliant composer Bernard Herrmann, who was better known for his troubled Alfred Hitchcock soundtracks (Vertigo in 1958, Psycho in 1960) and the music he provided for Ray Harryhausen’s fantasy epics like The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and Mysterious Island (1961). Herrmann’s score, laid over the opening shots of a Mexican beach in Garden of Evil, makes one wistful for the appearance of a giant animated crab or a man-eating cyclops.

The DVD extras include a making-of documentary and another on director Hathaway. The real plus in this package is a voice-over commentary about Herrmann and his music by four film music historians and composers, which is terrific stuff if you’re into Herrmann or interested in movie scoring. Even more amazing, the soundtrack has been reconducted and restored to the film in stereo, and it’s available as a stand-alone feature (meaning you can listen to the music without hearing the dialogue or incidental sounds). This DVD is top-dollar stuff, and pretty rare for a budget collection like this one.

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