Blu-ray Review: Garden of Evil - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Vintage Western fans will want to take note of boutique label Twilight Time's superb Blu-ray edition of Garden of Evil (1954). Rescuing this beautifully-shot CinemaScope production from potential obscurity, Twilight Time deserves kudos for including a mix of new and vintage supplemental materials. As part of their on-going Limited Edition series, only 3,000 copies of Garden of Evil were made available. While the film may hold limited appeal outside of hardcover Western fans, this release is gold for anyone who appreciates director Henry Hathaway's collaborations with star Gary Cooper.

Hathaway had a long, distinguished directorial career. Among his most notable achievements was an Academy Award nomination for The Lives of Bengal Lancer (1935), an early example of his work with Cooper. Along with John Ford and George Marshall, Hathaway was a director on the three-strip Cinerama extravaganza How the West Was Won (1962). Garden of Evil is a much less-flashy entry in his filmography, with Cooper starring as gold prospector Hooker whose goals take a hard turn when the gorgeous Leah Fuller (Susan Hayward) enters his life.

Hooker's not alone in his pursuit of Californian gold. He partners up with fellow gold-seekers Fiske (Richard Widmark), Luke Daly (Cameron Mitchell), and Vicente Madariaga (Victor Manuel Mendoza) when a money-making endeavor pops up during a pitstop in Mexico. It's Leah who requires a team of men to rescue her husband, John (Hugh Marlowe). John's caught in a mine right in the middle of Native American-inhabited land. The most interesting aspects of Garden involve the tensions between the group of disparate characters as they travel to attempt the rescue. Screenwriters William Tunberg and Frank Fenton delve into the discord, which is somewhat buoyed by Leah and John's strained union.
Garden of Evil BD booklet (299x380).jpg Twilight Time's Blu-ray presentation offers a 1080p transfer framed at 2.55:1 and it's largely a visual treat. Shot on location in Mexico, the cinematography by Milton R. Krasner and Jorge Stahl, Jr. is richly colorful. The source elements used for the transfer were obviously in extremely clean, pristine shape. There are no less than three lossless audio mixes to choose from: DTS-HD MA 5.1, DTS-HD MA 4.0, and DTS-HD MA 2.0. The film was (according to IMDb) issued theatrical in both four-track stereo and mono. So we get the four-track mix and, I'm guessing, an approximation of the mono with the 2.0 track. The 5.1 is an interesting expansion that adds a fair bit of sonic heft overall.

As is customary for Twilight Time releases, there is an isolated score track (this allows us to fully appreciate Bernard Herrmann's music). This edition also includes audio commentary by film and music historians John Morgan, Nick Redman, Steven C. Smith, and William T. Stromberg. There is also a trio of featurettes (presented in standard definition): "Travels of a Gunslinger: The Making of Garden of Evil," "Susan Hayward: Hollywood’s Straight Shooter," and "Henry Hathaway: When the Going Gets Tough."

Visit Screen Archives for ordering information while supplies last.

Garden of Evil BD cover (301x380).jpg

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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