(Subversive Cinema, 2.28.2006)
Great movies usually spring from a cross-pollination of ideas (no pun intended). Of course, so do some bad ones. In the case of The Gardener, we get an unexpected hybrid: a sexually frustrated wife melodrama mixed with a killer flower movie. While the results are less hit than miss, The Gardener achieves memorability due in large part to the likable, witty, sincere, engaging, naive, and charismatic performance by Katharine Houghton, fresh off her success in Stanley Kramer's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (Houghton herself calls that unforgettably bland character a "cypher").
Houghton's innocent, almost child-like work here makes for an intriguing contrast to Joe Dallesandro's aggressively sexualized (and endlessly shirtless), charisma-free performance. Houghton's work is central to the film's watchability, though an affection for fifties-melodrama-as-filtered-through-a-seventies-sensibility doesn't hurt. Against all odds, she makes an otherwise uninspired, amateurish film seem almost credible. This isn't the ultimate gardener movie by a long shot (for my money, that would be Being There), but it's not a miserable way to spend ninety minutes either.
Yet again, Subversive Cinema demonstrates their dedication to a-level presentation of b-level cinema. In addition to a 35-minute featurette, two commentaries (by Dallesandro and writer/director James H. Kay), a still gallery, and some trailers, we get an unexpected -- and un-listed -- treat: Million Dollar Dream, a 30-minute Master's Thesis documentary from 1980 about The Gardener's distribution woes. This is an entertaining, unusual, and informative doc with cable access production values and a surprising sense of humor.
The film's anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is also quite impressive, thankfully missing all the scratches and debris that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez would have fans expect from films of this period and budget level. -- Jonathan Doyle