For the second time in as many years, the fiery Susan Hayward is off to find a husband who has gone missing in a strange land. In 1954 she hired gun hands Gary Cooper and Richard Widmark to find her missing hubby, Hugh Marlowe, deep in Apache territory. The movie? Henry Hathaway’s Garden of Evil. This time out for director Edward Dmytryk she is in modern day Hong Kong latching on to Clark Gable in hopes he’ll be able to save her husband, Gene Barry, who has gone missing across the border in Communist China.
From what I can gather Miss Hayward never once stepped foot out of North America for this production so for the balance of this we’ll just have to imagine she’s in China with Gable who did actually go on location for the film’s production. Here we go …… Susan arrives in Hong Kong by boat and keen eyed observers will notice she shares a short scene with a young Count Yorga, aka Robert Quarry. She’s come to find her husband and when checking into a swank hotel we will all see a few of our leading character players lazing about.
These include Victor Sen Yung as the hotel waiter, Richard Loo as a former officer now down on his luck and relegated to being a tour guide, Alex D’Arcy as a playboy who instantly spots Miss Hayward, one time silent star Anna Sten as a barfly and Michael Rennie as the local police inspector who Susan will turn to for information. Turns out Barry is a photographer/roving reporter who has crossed illegally into China and is now imprisoned there. Though kind, Rennie gives her little hope so it would appear Susan is left to her own devices.
Enter Hank Lee as played by Gable. He never went home when the war ended and now is a wealthy man about town who we might consider to be a modern day Robin Hood or maybe even an extension of Bogart’s Rick of Casablanca. It’s through channels that Susan will turn to Clark and he’s instantly enraptured by the beautiful redhaired lady. Thankfully this is a color production that not only captures the location scenes but Miss Hayward as well.
“What’s the percentage of risking my life for another man’s wife?”
Gable finds himself falling hard for Susan and she’s receptive but alas a married woman and respectful of her vows. At first he begs off but like a knight in shining armor will come to her rescue when she’s taken advantage of by some unsavory characters when fishing for information on the wrong side of town. Yes it’s time for Gable to get tough. Gable along with D’Arcy and Rennie are heading into Communist China to spring Barry from the tortures and mind games forced upon him by Kam Tong (Hey Boy of Have Gun Will Travel). If you spotted Quarry with that keen eye you possess than you might also recognize a 26 year old James Hong who was just embarking on his long run as a guard where Barry is imprisoned.
You’ll have to tune in to see where this all winds up. Find out for yourself whether Gable is going to send Susan off with Gene as Bogie once did with Ingrid and Paul or is he going to claim Susan as his own. If only Gene could get bumped off during the escape. Either way this is an entertaining Gable and Hayward effort. The only major drawback for me are the shenanigans that go on in a dive bar owned and run by Tom Tully. It’s here that D’Arcy will tangle with some sailors over booze and women and that tough guy Leo Gordon is wasted in the background as opposed to being on the front lines with Gable during the skirmish across the border.
Released by 20th Century Fox, Soldier of Fortune would be the only film to pair the two iconic stars of yesteryear. They work well together and one wonders what might have been had they done more films as a team. Both were well suited to most any genre be it comedy, drama or outdoor action adventures. Gene Barry had already starred in the sci-fi hit War of the Worlds and would go on to a successful run as Bat Masterson once the western craze invaded television. Michael Rennie, like Barry had already found a major success in the sci-fi genre with the classic of 1951, The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Looking to see this Gable-Hayward affair? It’s available as part of a Gable DVD set that also includes The Tall Men and The Call of the Wild released a while back. Each with some fantastic artwork gracing the cover. Give it a look if you already haven’t.