Title: The Night of the Iguana
Language: English, Spanish
Director: John Huston
Music: Benjamin Frankel
Cinematography: Gabriel Figueroa
Another terrific Tennessee Williams cinematic presentation after the contently controversial SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER (1959), THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA is directed by the almighty John Huston, starring a trio of A-list names Burton, Gardner and Kerr, with a show-stealing supporting performance from the unknown Grayson Hall (who is the sole cast member reaps an Oscar nomination), and it also includes Sue Lyon’s follow-up role after Kubrick’s LOLITA (1962), which foreshadows her career being typecast as a precocious siren with an ingénue disguise.
Shot in standard Black & White, the opening scene is inside an episcopal church, we see Rev. Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon (Burton) normally preaches to his parishioners in a ceremony, but slowly he turns emotional and apoplectically lashes out at them, we have no idea what has happened, then the opening credits jump in, and next thing we know, he is in Mexico and becomes the tour guide of a group of Baptist women, headed by a high-strung Miss Judith Fellowes (Hall). All the way, Lawrence is tantalised by an underage girl Charlotte Goodall (Lyon), who is under the supervision of Miss Fellows. Until one night, he succumbs to the temptation and is caught in the act by Miss Fellows.
In order to keep his job and prohibit Miss Fellows from calling to his boss, Lawrence arbitrarily bring the group to a hotel, which is overlooking a sea view from the top of a hill and now run by a middle-age woman Maxine Faulk (Gardner), who is newly widowed. Meanwhile, a pair of uninvited guests arrive in the off-season, a spinster Hannah Jelkes (Kerr) who is peripatetic around the world with her ailing grandfather (Delevanti), who is a poet seeking the inspiration to finish his new poem.
While Charlotte’s caprice of carnal desires can be feasibly veered to another prey, and his job cannot avoid being sabotaged by Miss Fellowes’ obduracy, Lawrence comes to term with the situation with the help from Maxine and Hannah, the growing attractions take the main stage, and it is a love triangle needs one to take the moral high ground, which is quite similar to John Ford’s MOGAMBO (1953), also stars Gardner with Clark Gable and Grace Kelly, in an exotic location (African safari). A decade later, Gardner remains and inherits her flair of being fierily passionate and emotionally unconstrained, more unadorned in her raw beauty, her Maxine is never afraid of betray her feelings, she will flip her lid immediately when witnessing the chemistry between Lawrence and Hannah. She is boldly spontaneous, she will not hesitate to enjoy a threesome with two young Mexican boys on the beach at night after being snubbed by the one she loves, but when she thinks it through, she will generously make the sacrifice to take the egress and fulfil others’ happiness.
Gardner is great, but Kerr is even more admirable in her refined mien and dignity, Hannah is altruistic, sensible and well-bred, she possesses a rare quality of being both sophisticated and naive, she embraces life in the direst situation (penniless, and scrapes a living by selling her scratch to hotel clientele), her independence is super-modern at its time, and we will presumably fear she will fall into the victim of a dog-eat-dog world, but she is not the one who needs salvation, Kerr instils a steady crescendo of fortitude onto her character’s eccentric life pattern, unlike Maxine, she doesn’t need a man to compensate her sense of insecurity, she is fearless and awe-inspiring.
Maxine and Hannah represent two sides of one mirror, a perfect woman for Burton’s Lawrence, who is miserably lagging behind (being defrocked and jobless) to be the owner of his fate owing to his defects, there is no repulsive male-chauvinistic undertone which fatally tarnishes MOGAMBO. Burton’s macho appearance may jar with Lawrence’s innate vulnerability, but never judging a book by its cover, Burton sympathetically discloses his wounds with adequate pathos, eventually he will grow on you too like Gardner and Kerr, and their upshot considerably suffices our expectation and doesn’t fall into stale cliché.
Grayson Hall and Cyril Delevanti, both deliver indelible performances as well, the former completely overshadows Burton and Lyon in the first act, although one can argue, her character is basically one-noted, but she succeeds in setting off a fusillade of aggressiveness with her raspy squawk and acerbic accusations. As for the latter, great line-delivery of his last poem alone can neutralise the cringeworthy disappointment of his prefigured destiny to consummate his life in the journey.
It is a great showpiece with a brainy script, powerful acting and compassionate score, with one conspicuous slip-up, paraphrasing Lawrence earlier in the film, “(Mexico) It is a lost world of innocence”, unfortunately, we fail to acknowledge that throughout the film and the native inhabitants are conveniently and consistently portrayed without any gusto apart from being pigeonholed as wacky exotica (catching iguana for food) or laughing stock (two Mexican guys persistently playing with maracas), so, why Mexico? It could be “The Night of Anywhere”.