Our Rating: ★★★½☆
L Factor: Major lesbian character
Short Take: One hot night on the Mexican coast
Alternate Titles:
Year: 1964
Duration: 112 min
Language: USA/English
MPAA: Not Rated
Director: John Huston
Writer: Tennessee Williams, Anthony Veiller
Starring: Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, Sue Lyon, Grayson Hall

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Night of the Iguana

Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, John Huston, Tennessee Williams … all very big names in 1960s Hollywood. Yet The Night of the Iguana is a little known film now. It is not considered the best work of director, Huston or writer, Williams, but both Burton and Gardner turn in powerhouse performances.

Burton (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) plays the Rev. Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon, a priest driven out of his Virginia church by controversy. He ends up as a drunken tour guide in Mexico, and the film follows his travails with a Texas Baptist tour group of prudish women. They are also chaperoning Charlotte (Sue Lyon, Lolita), a teenage girl who develops a thing for Shannon. Group leader Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall, All My Children, One Life to Live) already seems to despise their guide, and when she finds Charlotte in his room, she does her best to get him fired on the spot.

Shannon is unstable and takes over the bus, heading for his friend Maxine’s isolated hotel. There we experience “The Night of the Iguana,” as Shannon is caught and trussed up just like the large reptiles native to the area. In this part of the film especially, it is apparent that the film is adapted from the stage. Burton dominates the screen, a bit too big and loud. His anguish and drama are characteristically Tennessee Williams, Southern Gothic to the core.

Ava Gardner (Maxine), on the other hand, dominates the screen in a way that makes you appreciate what a great actress she is. Neither loud nor brash, even out of the corner of your eye, she simply becomes the center of attention with her star quality.

Grayson Hall took home the Oscar for Best Supporting actress that year for her performance as the over-protective and (according to Shannon) “butch” Judith Fellowes. Shannon also implies that Fellowes’ interest in Charlotte is more than it seems.

In defense of Shannon, Maxine lashes out at Fellows. ‘Geography is my specialty. Did you know that if it wasn’t for the dikes, the plains of Texas would be engulfed by the gulf?’ Shannon stops her there and later tells Maxine, “Miss Fellowes is a highly moral person. If she ever recognized the truth about herself, it would destroy her.”

Watching this today, the movie’s message and Shannon’s rants may seem heavy-handed, but the film is notable for its 1964 raciness. Burton appears in wet and revealing tighty-whities, Maxine consorts with her two Mexican beach boys, and the character of Judith Fellowes pulls lesbianism out of the Hayes-code closet and calls it what it is.  (AB)