The Night of the Iguana
Tennessee Williams Film Collection exclusively available from HMV at £44.99
The attractions of John Huston's 1964 film version of Tennessee Williams' stage play are a combination of great acting and a lush, unspoiled Mexican setting that conveys exactly the right overheated atmosphere, even in black-and-white.
The play centres on the troubles of a defrocked whisky priest T Lawrence Shannon, played with great feeling by Richard Burton. The opening scene shows him cracking up and emptying his church on the way to a breakdown that leaves him fit for nothing better than acting as a glorified tour rep for frustrated spinsters.
With his weaknesses for the bottle and under-aged girls, this was never likely to be a long career. You soon realise that he has met his match in the ill-matched duo of seventeen-year-old Charlotte Goodall (Sue Lyon practically reprising her performance two years previously as Lolita) and her guardian, an awful prig called Miss Fellowes wonderfully played by Grayson Hall.
In his attempts to make a buck and cover his tracks, Shannon kidnaps the party to the hotel of his newly widowed friend, Maxine Faulk played by Ava Gardner, a lively type with a taste for toyboys.
To complete the rum selection of guests, an upper-class but impecunious portrait artist Hannah Jelkes hobbles up with her 97 year-old grandfather, Nonno. This pair is charmingly played by Deborah Kerr and Cyril Delevanti.
Once we get past the problems of the little girl, and they take some getting past, the symbolism of a tethered iguana becomes all too apparent, representing both the anti-hero's attempts to overcome his own nature and Nonno's desire to complete his final poem and with it his life.
The catalyst for both of these endeavours is Hannah, who unexpectedly reveals that she has suffered from demons almost equal to those haunting the priest. She also has to overcome the jealousy of Maxine who expected to have him to herself.
The film peaks as a writhing and highly argumentative Burton is literally tied to a hammock to dry out.
From this rich mix, Tennessee Williams eventually achieves a satisfying and potentially happy ending to an exotic and engrossing film.
In addition to the feature, there are two shorts about the making of the film. The original, featuring John Huston is enlightening and allows us to see a little of the Puerto Vallerta setting (and Burton's future wife) in glorious Technicolor, while the second is unwatchable.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher