Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (film)

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a 1997 American mystery thriller film directed and produced by Clint Eastwood and starring John Cusack and Kevin Spacey. The screenplay by John Lee Hancock was based on John Berendt's 1994 book of the same name and follows the story of an antiques dealer, Jim Williams, on trial for the murder of a male prostitute. The multiple trials depicted in Berendt's book are combined into one trial for the film.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Theatrical release poster, featuring images of (from top to bottom) Kevin Spacey, John Cusack, Alison Eastwood, The Lady Chablis, Jude Law and Jack Thompson, as well as a Bird Girl sculpture
Directed byClint Eastwood
Screenplay byJohn Lee Hancock
Based onMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
by John Berendt
Produced byClint Eastwood
CinematographyJack N. Green
Edited byJoel Cox
Music byLennie Niehaus
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • November 21, 1997 (1997-11-21)
Running time
155 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$30 million[2]
Box office$25.1 million[3]

Several real-life locals appear in the movie, notably in the party scene at Mercer House,[4] including Williams' sister, Dorothy, and nieces Susan and Amanda, as well as Georgia senator John R. "Jack" Riley (his wife was played by Mary Alice Hendrix).[4] Filming was permitted inside Mercer House, but action scenes were done later on a soundstage at Warner Bros.[2]

Three people — The Lady Chablis, Emma Kelly and Jerry Spence — play themselves, while Sonny Seiler, one of Williams' lawyers in the book, plays Judge Samuel L. White. Danny Hansford, the shooting victim in the book, is renamed Billy Hanson in the film.

The film was shot entirely in Savannah, Georgia.


Mercer House. The alleged murder of Billy Hanson occurred in Williams' study – the bottom left room in this photograph. The house is now known as the Mercer Williams House Museum

The panoramic tale of Savannah's eccentricities focuses on a murder and the subsequent trial of Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey), a self-made man, art collector, antiques dealer, bon vivant, and semi-closeted homosexual. John Kelso (John Cusack), a magazine reporter with one book — Before the Fall — to his name, arrives in Savannah, amid the beautiful architecture and odd doings, to write a feature for Town & Country on one of Williams' famous Christmas parties. After being unable to find a taxicab, Kelso asks tour-bus driver (Gary Anthony Williams) if he's going to Jones Street. "I'll getcha there."

After a tour of Savannah's visitor hotspots, Kelso alights at Forsyth Park. He makes his way to his lodging on Monterey Square, having a brief interaction with Billy Hanson (Jude Law) in front of Mercer House en route.

Kelso visits the offices of Sonny Seiler (Jack Thompson), lawyer to Jim Williams. Seiler introduces Kelso to Williams, and the two take Seiler's dog, Uga IV, for a walk through Forsyth Park.

The following night is Williams' annual Mercer House Christmas party, with Kelso guest of honor. Long after the guests have all left, Hanson is shot dead by Williams in his office. Kelso stays on to cover the murder trial. Along the way he encounters the irrepressible The Lady Chablis, a transgender entertainer; a man who keeps flies attached to mini leashes on his lapels and threatens daily to poison the water supply; Serena Dawes (Dorothy Loudon), a former silent-film actress; the Married Ladies Card Club; and Minerva (Irma P. Hall), a spiritualist and voodoo practitioner.

Between becoming Williams' friend, cuddling-up to torch singer Mandy Nichols (Alison Eastwood) — also a love interest of Joe Odom (Paul Hipp) — meeting every eccentric in Savannah, participating in midnight graveyard rituals, and helping solve the mysteries surrounding Hanson's murder, Kelso has his hands full. The judge (Sonny Seiler) and jury later find Williams not guilty, much to the pleasure of Kelso and the witnesses. Williams congratulates Kelso on proving his innocence.

Kelso is leaving town. As he says goodbye, he asks Williams one last question for the book: Does he want to tell him what really happened? Williams replies, "Truth, like art, is in the eye of the beholder. You believe what you choose, and I'll believe what I know." He watches from the window as Kelso walks away. Minutes later, Williams is stricken by a sudden heart attack and falls face down on the carpet. His heartbeat slows. He sees Hanson lying alongside him, as he was in death. Their eyes meet, and Hanson raises his head and smiles, then resumes his position, lifeless. The heartbeat has stopped. An overhead point of view shows the two dead men lying like mirror images, then Hanson fades away.

After the funeral, Minerva tells Kelso he knows all he needs to know and warns him not to waste too much time on the dead. “I love you, boy, but I ain’t the only one. You know that, don't you?” Later, Kelso signs a six-month lease on an apartment. To celebrate, he, Mandy and the Lady Chablis, who is walking Uga, stroll off together for a picnic. Minerva, who is feeding squirrels in the park, laughs as they pass. Cut to the cemetery and shots of the two graves. The credits roll over film of Bird Girl,[5] with k.d. lang singing “Skylark”, as she does in the movie's opening.


Gary Anthony Williams portrayed the tour-bus driver at the beginning of the film

Clint Eastwood permitted The Lady Chablis to ad-lib some of her lines. He gave her the nickname the "one-take wonder".[6] "We kind of hit the script in a roundabout way," confirmed John Cusack.[7] "[During filming] they put me up at the Holiday Inn," explained Chablis in 2011. "So I told Clint: 'Y'all forgot. I am the Doll. I do not stay at the Holiday Inn.' There was not enough room there for my luggage. And Clint apologized. He said, 'I can't believe they did that to you, Doll'. He was so wonderful."[8]

Gary Anthony Williams played the tour-bus driver at the beginning of the movie.[9] He did more than just load the tourists' bags into the bus, however: "They hired me for the job, and for some reason they thought I could a drive a big double-decker bus that was from England," Williams explained in 2021. "With the steering wheel and gas and clutch on the opposite side, I thought I was going to kill a bunch of background actors that day. But Clint Eastwood was so cool. He put me at ease."[citation needed]

James Gandolfini made an uncredited appearance as the cook in the two scenes filmed at Clary's.[10]


"[My character] is based loosely on John [Berendt]," Cusack said in 1997. "John is a very funny, curious, mischievous, smart guy, so I was definitely able to pull those qualities that John actually has and put them into the John Kelso character."[11]

Flavis, the squirrel Minerva talks to on the Forsyth Park bench at the beginning of the movie, was a trained animal.[4]

Differences from the bookEdit

Several changes were made in adapting the film from the book. Many unused characters were eliminated or combined into remaining ones. John Berendt states at the end of his book: "All the characters in this book are real, but it bears mentioning that I have used pseudonyms for a number of them in order to protect their privacy." To create further distance, several character names in the movie are different than in the book.

  • John Berendt was removed from the journalistic role; the fictional John Kelso was introduced in his place, and a love interest was added for the film
  • Danny Hansford is renamed Billy Hanson in the film
  • Lee Adler, the former member of the Telfair Museums board, becomes Lorne Atwell. Adler, who lived with his wife across West Wayne Street from Mercer House, died in 2012, aged 88[12]
  • George Oliver, the judge in Williams' trial, is now Samuel L. White. Oliver died in 2004 at the age of 89[13]
  • Spencer Lawton, the district attorney who prosecutes Williams, is renamed Finley Largent
  • Greg Kerr, one of those called to witness, becomes George Tucker
  • Prentiss Crowe's lines about the deceased being "a good time not yet had by all" were instead spoken by Serena Dawes
  • Sonny Clarke, a member of the Oglethorpe Club, said the line, "They're saying he shot the best piece of ass in Savannah" in the book, but it was given to Joe Odom in the movie

The multiple trials were combined into one on-screen trial. Williams' real life attorney, Sonny Seiler, played Samuel L. White, the presiding judge of the trial. Seiler was originally cast as a juror, but Eastwood persuaded him to take on the role of the judge. "I said, 'I'm not an actor,' and Clint said, 'Of course you are. All lawyers are actors, and you are one of the best. If you do this for me, I won't have to hire a dialect coach.'"[14] Seiler's daughter, Bess Thompson, appears in the movie as the "pretty girl"[15] in Forsyth Park who asks if she can have her picture taken with Uga.[16]


Advertising for the film became a source of controversy when Warner Bros. used elements of Jack Leigh's famous photograph in the posters without permission, infringing copyright law.[17]

Filming locationsEdit

Monterey Square, with Mercer House visible through the Spanish moss
115 East Jones Street, built in 1853, was the venue for Joe Odom's party

While entertaining the role of being the film's director, Clint Eastwood visited Savannah, Georgia, where the entire film was shot, in 1996. "I didn't get to know too many people at that time — mostly places — but I did meet some people who knew about the Jim Williams episode. And I met the attorney, Sonny Seiler, who was very, very helpful in making everyone understand what the attitude and atmosphere was in Savannah in the 1980s," he said.[18] Principal photography began in spring the following year.[19]

"[John Berendt and I] spoke a lot about the novel and he took us on a tour of Savannah — The John Berendt Tour — which is a great tour of Savannah," John Cusack said in 1997. "We talked about the screenplay. He was very helpful."[11] As for Savannah itself: "I'd definitely go back and hang out. It's a fun place. It's terrific being in a place that isn't interested in being modern. It's not interested in the fast-paced, kinetic lifestyle that we all lead. It's very relaxed; it's got a slow rhythm. All the squares that are in the middle of the town are made so that you can't speed through in traffic; you have to go leisurely around. Cocktail parties and parties are a big deal. It's interested in preserving its past; it's not interested in moving towards the future. It's interested in the way it is. It's very lush and exotic and mysterious."[11]

Several scenes were filmed in and around Monterey Square. Jim Williams' Mercer House is located in the southwestern tything block of the square, at 429 Bull Street. Williams' sister, Dorothy Kingery, became the owner of the house after her brother's death. After initially agreeing to permit filming to take place inside the home, she developed cold feet. "Clint Eastwood came from California the next day," Kingery said. "We talked about my concerns, and he addressed those."[16] While most of the scenes were filmed inside the home, the fight and shooting scenes were done in a California studio.[16] When it came to the Christmas party scenes, the house contained so many valuable pieces of art and furniture that it presented a security problem. Eastwood decided, therefore, not to use extras. He instead sent out engraved invitations to the same locals that Williams used to invite to his parties.[8]

The Hugh Comer House, where John Kelso is greeted upon his arrival in Savannah. The gate in the fence that Kelso walks through has since been removed

John Kelso is shown being welcomed by Mrs. Baxter to the Italianate house at 2 East Taylor Street — the 1880-built former home of Hugh Comer (1842–1900), president of Central of Georgia Railroad, on the square's northeastern ward. Kelso does not stay there in the movie, however; his carriage-house apartment was built on a soundstage in Burbank, California.[20] Window shots from inside the carriage house were filmed across from 115 East Jones Street, which Joe Odom was looking after for its owner, who was in New York. (Odom's house, constructed by Eliza Jewett in 1847, was at 16 East Jones.)[21] Kelso's six-month rental, shown at the end of the film, is 218 West Jones Street, which is now valued at over $1.15 million.[22]

Armstrong House, the former home of Bouhan Falligant LLP. The firm moved to One West Park Avenue in 2017

The scenes at Sonny Seiler's offices were filmed at the Armstrong House, 447 Bull Street, south of Monterey Square and close to the northern edge of Forsyth Park. John Bouhan was one of the partners of Bouhan, Williams & Levy, which moved into Armstrong House in 1970. Bouhan died the following year, but it is his dog, Patrick, that was continued to be walked by the law firm's porter, William Glover (James Moody), long after Bouhan's death.[23] In 2017, Bouhan Falligant LLP moved to One West Park Avenue[24] after developer Richard C. Kessler bought Armstrong House. Seiler retired just before the move.[25]

The courthouse scenes were filmed at the Tomochichi Federal Building and United States Courthouse, in the western trust lot of Wright Square. Dixie's Flowers, the flower shop Mandy works at, is in the northeastern tything lot of the square, at 6 East State Street.

This apartment, at 418 East Liberty Street, doubled as the home of Chablis Deveau

The residence used as The Lady Chablis' home is 418 East Liberty Street. The Myra Bishop Family Clinic she walks to is at 311 Habersham Street, about 500 feet away.

Kelso has breakfast (and an evening coffee with Mandy) at Clary's Cafe, at 404 Abercorn Street. Photos of the cast taken during down time from filming are hung by the door to the diner.

The Married Women's Card Club is at 126 East Gaston Street, now known as Granite Hall and part of SCAD.

Churchill's Pub was located at 9 Drayton Street at the time of filming, but it was damaged in a fire six years later and closed.[26]

The Debutante Ball was filmed at the Savannah Inn and Country Club. (It later became Wilmington Island Club but was renamed back to Savannah Inn and Country Club in 2018.)

Bonaventure Cemetery, on the city's eastern edge, is featured on several occasions, although Minerva performs her mysterious incantations at the "colored cemetery" just beyond it in the movie. (In the book, said cemetery is in Beaufort, South Carolina, within walking distance of Minerva's home.)

Forsyth Park is the venue for the dog-walking scenes, including the cameo appearance of Uga V, the English bulldog live mascot of the University of Georgia, playing his father, Uga IV. Uga V died two years after filming.[27] The Uga mascots live in Savannah between football games.

Candler Hospital is misspelled Chandler Hospital throughout the film.

After location filming ended in June 1997, a fundraiser was held at and for Savannah's Lucas Theatre, which was built in 1921. Spacey donated $200,000 in Williams' honor to assist in the $7.6-million renovation of the theatre.[28] "I love Savannah. I had a great time here," said Spacey, an Oscar winner in 1996 for his role in The Usual Suspects. "I plan to visit again. And once this (theater) gets done, I'll bring a play here."[28] It was hoped that the movie's premiere would take place at the Lucas,[28] but it was instead held on November 17 at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank. Its Savannah premiere occurred on November 20 at the Johnny Mercer Theater. It opened nationwide the following day.


Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Soundtrack album by
Various Artists
ReleasedNovember 18, 1997
LabelWarner Bros.
ProducerErnie Altschuler
Review scores
Allmusic      link

The soundtrack for the film was released in 1997. It is also dedicated to Johnny Mercer. The CD includes versions of songs heard in the film.[29]

1."Skylark"Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercerk.d. lang3:46
2."Too Marvelous for Words"Richard Whiting, MercerJoe Williams3:40
3."Autumn Leaves"Joseph Kosma, Jacques Prévert, MercerPaula Cole7:24
4."Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread)"Rube Bloom, MercerRosemary Clooney4:10
5."Dream"MercerBrad Mehldau5:10
6."Days of Wine and Roses"Henry Mancini, MercerCassandra Wilson4:47
7."That Old Black Magic"Harold Arlen, MercerKevin Spacey3:33
8."Come Rain or Come Shine"Arlen, MercerAlison Eastwood4:32
9."Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive"Arlen, MercerClint Eastwood3:35
10."This Time the Dream's on Me"Arlen, MercerAlison Krauss3:46
11."Laura"David Raksin, MercerKevin Mahogany4:49
12."Midnight Sun"Lionel Hampton, Sonny Burke, MercerDiana Krall4:01
13."I'm an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande)"MercerJoshua Redman4:59
14."I Wanna Be Around"Sadie Vimmerstedt, MercerTony Bennett2:10


Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was a box office failure, grossing $25.1 million[3] to an estimated $30 million budget.[2] It received mixed reviews. It scores 50% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, based on 36 reviews with an average rating of 5.98/10. The site's consensus states: "Clint Eastwood's spare directorial style proves an ill fit for this Southern potboiler, which dutifully trudges through its mystery while remaining disinterested in the cultural flourishes that gave its source material its sense of intrigue."[30] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 57 out of 100, based on 23 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[31] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "C+" on an A+ to F scale.[32]

"Kevin Spacey played Jim Williams -- badly," John Berendt said in a 2015 interview. "He didn't even come close. I had offered [Spacey] recordings so he could to listen to Jim Williams talking to me, regaling me with stories while sitting in his living room in Mercer House. [Spacey] said he'd already heard Williams on tape talking during one of his trials. But when I saw the movie, I was perplexed by the way Spacey portrayed Williams, because he did it as if he were asleep. He talked as if he were in a fog or sleepwalking. Then I realized what had happened, and I thought it was hilariously funny." Berendt believes Spacey listened to tapes of Williams during the third trial, when he had taken Valium.[33]


  1. ^ "MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL (15)". British Board of Film Classification. January 22, 1998. Retrieved December 11, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Hughes, p.149
  3. ^ a b Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil at Box Office Mojo
  4. ^ a b c "Savananh Presents: 'Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil'"Savannah Morning News, YouTube, December 6, 2012
  5. ^ The sculpture has since been moved from the cemetery to Telfair Museums' Telfair Academy.
  6. ^ "De Alba on Chablis" - David-De-Alba.com
  7. ^ The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, November 18, 1997
  8. ^ a b "FILM: WAKE UP SAVANNAH, THE WORLD IS COMING TO TOWN" - The Independent, 23 October 2011
  9. ^ Gary Anthony Williams - British Film Institute
  10. ^ The Coen Brothers Encyclopedia - Google Books
  11. ^ a b c John Cusack "Midnight in The Garden Of Good And Evil" 1997 - Bobbie Wygant Archive - The Bobbie Wygant Archive, YouTube, July 15, 2020
  12. ^ "Lee Adler, historic preservationist, dies at 88" - Athens Banner-Herald, January 31, 2012
  13. ^ "Judge George Oliver Dies at 89" - WTOC, July 2, 2004
  14. ^ "‘Midnight’ in Savannah — 20 years later" - The Dallas Morning News, June 20, 2014
  15. ^ As listed in the film's credits
  16. ^ a b c "People who were there fill ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’" - Savannah Now, November 9, 2009
  17. ^ Paul Siegel Communication Law in America, p. 213, at Google Books
  18. ^ "Clint Eastwood chats with Joe Leydon about 'Midnight...'" - YouTube, published February 25, 2010
  19. ^ Hughes, p.148
  20. ^ Midnight in the Garden - StardustFusion.com
  21. ^ "JONES STREET, SAVANNAH, GA" - GoSouthSavannah.com
  22. ^ 218 West Jones Street - Realtor.com
  23. ^ "SAVANNAH DAYDREAMS" - Orlando Sentinel, August 20, 2000
  24. ^ Bouhan.com - History
  25. ^ "Savannah's Sonny Seiler inducted into UGA Circle of Distinction" - Savannah Now, April 28, 2018
  26. ^ "City Talk: The Fitzroy brings eclectic menu to Drayton Street" - Savannah Morning News, May 7, 2018
  27. ^ "Uga - The Georgia Bulldog" - GeorgiaDogs.com
  28. ^ a b c "'Midnight' filming ends in Savannah" - The Augusta Chronicle, June 16, 1997
  29. ^ Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil – Original Soundtrack at AllMusic.com
  30. ^ Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil at Rotten Tomatoes
  31. ^ Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil at Metacritic
  32. ^ "Home - Cinemascore". Cinemascore. Retrieved December 28, 2019.
  33. ^ "Author of 'Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil' returns to Savannah" - The Island Packet, March 3, 2015

External linksEdit