Garden of Evil (1954): Henry Hathaway Western Starring Gary Cooper and Susan Hayward

Garden of Evil, directed by Henry Hathaway, was Gary Cooper’s eighty-first film, and it reunited him with Susan Hayward, with whom he had co-starred in Beau Geste, back in his Paramount days.

Garden of Evil
Poster - Garden of Evil 01.jpg

While stranded in a Mexican fishing village, Hooker (Gary Cooper), Fiske (Richard Widmark), and Daly (Cameron Mitchell), soldiers of fortune bound for the California gold mines, are approached by a mysterious American woman named Leah Fuller (Hayward) for help. She is willing to pay them if they escort her through hazardous Indian territory to rescue her husband (Hugh Marlowe), who is trapped in a gold mine cave-in.

The trio agrees and, with a Mexican guide, they begin their arduous journey. Leah discovers the Mexican marking trails and, late one night, she fights against Daly’s crude advances. Despite rising tensions, however, the journey continues, and the group arrives at what the Indians call “the Garden of Evil,” a sacred site atop a high mountain where the mine is located.

Upon finding Fuller, they realize that the angry Indians are about to attack. After an operation on the wounded Fuller, the trip continues, but he’s the first to get killed by the Indians, followed by Daly, and the Mexican. Hooker and Fiske then draw cards to determine who will take Leah to safety, and who will stay to cover their escape. Hooker and Leah leave together, and she tells him that Fiske had cheated. Hooker returns, only to find Fiske dying among the bodies of the Indians he had slain.

Always a pro, Hathaway gave the film the right look and pace, but Frank Fenton’s screenplay, from a story by Fred Freiberger and William Tunberg, left a lot to be desired. The conflicts are predictable and could be anticipated long before they occur. Nonetheless, the film’s production values, particularly Milton Krasner and Jorge Stahl’s Technicolor Cinematography, were impressive. The gifted musician Bernard Herrmann, then at the height of his career working for Hitchcock, contributed another striking and unsettling score.

If you look carefully, you can spot the very young Rita Moreno as a cabaret singer.

There are two songs in the movie: “La Negra Noche” by Emilio Uranga, and “Aqui,” by Ken Darby and Lionel Newman.

Hayward, who’s harsh as nails, made the film at the height of her popularity, just before the melodramas I’ll Cry Tomorrow and I Want to Live!, which would win her the Best Actress Oscar in 1958.

Though not one of Hathaway’s best films, “Garden of Evil” is reliably entertaining and a typical Western of its era.


Directed by Henry Hathaway
Produced by Charles Brackett
Screenplay by Frank Fenton, story by Fred Freiberger, William Tunberg
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Milton R. Krasner
Jorge Stahl, Jr.
Edited by James B. Clark
Color process Technicolor

Production and distribution:: 20th Century Fox

Release date: July 9, 1954

Running time: 100 minutes
Budget $2,070,000
Box office $3.1 million (US rentals)