Night of the Iguana, The (1964)

The Night of the Iguana (1964), directed by John Huston.

An Episcopalian priest goes off the rails -- temptations of the flesh; it seems that young women won't leave him alone and he is too polite to resist -- and he winds up guiding a tour bus in Mexico. This is his last chance. If he loses this job his final recourse is "a long swim to China".

Squiring a load of Baptist lady teachers is not easy: the dragon-lady's niece is an underage babe who has fallen in love with him. Careening from one disaster to another he strands them at an out of the way hotel near the beach where he has friends. And then... well, he hasn't planned that far ahead.

From a Tennessee Williams play: witty and cerebral, a deeply compassionate look at the human comedy. Dialogue-heavy, but that's fine in this case.

I think Richard Burton is fantastic here. Too much? No way. Perfect. Maybe raving drunken reprobate came naturally to him, but he did it well.

He's matched by Deborah Kerr. They're great together. You want a sensitive, intelligent spinster with exquisite, soothing manners -- she is the one you call. That she and her frail poet grandfather are penniless buskers makes them pathetic but pure.

Ava Gardner is more over the top, but that is the sort of brassy character she plays. Apparently also a natural style. Sexually voracious looks good on her. Her custom is to take studly beach boys Pepe and Pedro down to the beach at night and have them both together (we suppose).

Grayson Hall is the crypto-lesbian dragon-lady. I remember her as Dr Hoffman in the Dark Shadows TV series.

All of the above were in their early 40s at the time.

Finally, Sue Lyon as the dangerously aggressive teen babe had just done Lolita (1962) for Kubrick.

Fine cinematography, a location realism that somehow evokes that era. Lovely orchestral score.

Plenty of innuendo in the dialogue:


(the young woman is cleaning broken glass off the floor...)

Burton: Get off your knees, it's indecent.


Ava: What size shoe you wear, baby?

Burton: I do not get the point of that question.


Burton: I loved old Fred, Maxine, but I do not want to fill his shoes.

Ava: You could do worse, baby. You could do worse.


(last lines)

Ava: Why don't we go down to the beach?

Burton: Well, I can get down the hill, Maxine, but I'm not too sure about getting back up.

Ava: I'll get you back up, baby. I'll always get you back up.

One thing that doesn't work: I'm not sure about Pepe and Pedro. They always appear dancing in place, shaking maracas that make no sound. Is that weird in a good way or just plain bad? Like the Spinal Tap boys say, "It's a fine line between clever and stupid".

Available on a rather good-looking DVD. It would make a great Blu-ray if the elements are in good shape.