Friday 28 June 2019

Movie Review: The Night Of The Iguana (1964)

A drama about life's dead-ends, The Night Of The Iguana aims for profound but lands on the wrong side of laborious.

Reverend Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton) suffers an emotional meltdown and is locked out of his own church. He re-emerges as a cut-rate tour guide in Mexico, escorting a group of women unfortunate enough to find themselves on his cheap bus. He clashes with the prim Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall), the stressed chaperon for the underaged but oversexed Charlotte (Sue Lyon), who in turn is intent on seducing Shannon and re-triggering the cause of his downfall.

With Judith starting to make long distance phone calls to probe into Shannon's background, he leads the group to the Puerto Vallarta hilltop villa hotel operated by his earthy friend Maxine Faulk (Ava Gardner). They are soon joined by penniless sketch artist Hannah Jelkes (Deborah Kerr), who is traveling with her delipidating grandfather Nonno (Cyril Delevanti), a presumed poet. Shannon, Maxine and Hannah engage in discussions about life and love, while Charlotte and Judith continue to pursue their own agendas.

An adaptation of the 1961 Tennessee Williams play, The Night Of The Iguana explores the downfall and potential salvation paths of one man as he tangles with the consequences of succumbing to temptation, argues against himself, and surrenders to the charms of a young women and the more potent influence of the bottle. The film placed Puerto Vallarta on the map, and the congregation of Hollywood superstars and their entourages at the remote Mexico location, with Elizabeth Taylor joining her lover Richard Burton on-set (they were both married to others), has entered Hollywood folklore. The movie itself, however, is a largely insufferable excuse to wallow in self-imposed misery, despite dripping with displays and discussions of sexuality.

Shannon's inability to control his impulses represents a short-cut to ignominy, and four unmarried women offer the disgraced Reverend opportunities for either further debasement or redemption. Judith looks down upon him as filth as she desperately tries to protect Charlotte's reputation in a case of apportioning all blame in completely the wrong direction. Maxine is pragmatically engaged in a hedonistic lifestyle and enjoying the on-demand company of two perpetually maracas-shaking virile and much younger locals. She understands Shannon's weakness in front of the flesh all too well.

Hannah is touring the world riding the generosity of others, although she offers her amateur artistry and her grandfather's tottering talent in return. She connects with Shannon as another soul peddling culture to cover up abject failure. And finally Charlotte has embarked on an unconstrained expedition of sexual discovery, the presence of her chaperon a minor and inconsequential inconvenience.

Despite the potential for intrigue residing within the characters, director John Huston gets bogged down in static, long, and mind-numbingly talkative scenes. His script is unable to expand the material into a meaningful cinematic format and particularly in the second half settles for dialogue that would sound hopelessly artificial even on stage. The cast members don't help much, Burton (resigned), Gardner (jaunty) and Kerr (perceptive) appearing to be in different movies but all of them marginally overacting just the same.

An iguana spends a long time on a leash as Reverend Shannon is also roped to protect himself from his own worst tendencies. For both man and lizard, The Night Of The Iguana is tightly tied to the deep malaise of failure.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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