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Thursday, January 13, 2011

GARDEN OF EVIL (1954)

This early CinemaScope Western lays on the Mexican landscape to spectacular effect without losing sight of its modest story. Gary Cooper, Richard Widmark & Cameron Mitchell are fortune hunters stranded in a small Mexican backwater town. They’re already being serenaded by Rita Moreno when Susan Hayward enters the joint. She’s a desperate wife whose husband has got himself trapped in a secluded gold mine far away from town. Getting there will be plenty tough; getting out even tougher with a band of Apaches hunting them down for sport. It’s nice to see the WideScreen format already being used to frame the action of a small cast, no thousands of extras here; and the dramatic use of character psychology under the pressure of a challenging terrain points ahead to many of the best chamber-sized Westerns that took advantage of the format. Robert Krasker’s fine lensing gets a boost from 2nd unit man Jorge Stahl, who shot DEATH IN THE GARDEN for Luis Buñuel (see below); dig those cool matte shots on the mountain pass. And the film also gets a lift from the only score Bernard Herrmann ever wrote for the genre. The film’s no classic, but Henry Hathaway’s tautly paced, solid helming shouldn’t be taken for granted even if he remains a bit shy on close-ups & inserts in the approved early CinemaScope manner.*

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *This must be the one & only film where two guys ‘cut’ a deck of cards and we get neither an insert nor a ‘push-in’ tracking shot to see close-ups of the winning & losing cards.

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