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Joseph L. Mankiewicz
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Joseph L. Mankiewicz
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The Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon has been living in Mexico for two years, working as a tourist guide for a cut-rate travel agency. Shannon lost his church and was defrocked after taking liberties with one of his parishioners. He's now accompanying a group of middle-aged ladies from Texas whose leader, Judith Fellowes, is keeping a close eye on her teenage ward, Charlotte Goodall, who definitely has an interest in the former priest. After Charlotte and Shannon spend the night together, Fellowes is out to have him fired and to keep her from communicating with his employer, Shannon strands them at a remote hotel run by his good friend Maxine Faulk. It's the arrival of Hannah Jelkes and her elderly grandfather that has the greatest impact however. Her approach to life and love forces Shannon to deal with his demons and re-evaluate his life. Written by
A motley group of weary travelers converge on a rundown seaside resort in Mexico, and ruminate on the vicissitudes of life and on each other, in this Tennessee Williams play converted to film by Director John Huston.
The plot begins with the travails of the good Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton) who, after having lost his temper in a pulpit tirade, takes a lowly job as a Mexican tour guide, driving a decrepit old tour bus. On his current assignment he hauls around a bunch of moribund old church hags, led by the humorless and rather butch Miss Fellowes (Grayson Hall). She constantly nags and pecks, hovering over our good reverend, like some bird that can't quite kill its stubborn prey, as characterized in this verbal outburst directed at Shannon. "Now you listen to me. We girls have worked and slaved all year at Baptist female college for this Mexican tour, and the tour is a cheat. For days we've been hauled in that stifling bus over the byways, off the highways, shook up and bumped up ...". It's enough to drive a tour guide to drink.
They arrive at the "resort", greeted by the effervescent manager, Maxine Faulk (Ava Gardner), saucy, sultry, and just as outspoken as Miss Fellowes, but much more worldly wise. Maxine gets assistance from two youthful Mexican beach boys who shake their maracas but never speak.
Into this sociological stew comes two proud guests, a wheelchair bound, senile old man (Cyril Delevanti) who writes poetry, and his New England, spinster granddaughter, Hannah Jelkes (Deborah Kerr), a sketch artist who peddles the two's artistry in lieu of payment, since they are penniless.
The characters in this film are all rather worn and beaten, physically tired from the Mexican heat, and mentally drained from life's burdens, as desperate as a captured lizard at the end of its rope. And therein lies the film's theme: to accept one's station in life regardless of circumstances, to cease struggling, to endure the hardships, and be on the "realistic level".
Although Burton does a fairly good job in the lead role, he's rather too Shakespearean, too theatrical, to be convincing as a priest, defrocked or otherwise. I would like to have seen what actor Maximilian Schell could have done with this role. Otherwise, the casting is great. Grayson Hall, Ava Gardner, and Deborah Kerr are all terrific in their parts.
As you would expect for a Tennessee Williams' creation, the film is very talky. The B&W cinematography is fine, but it would have been even better in color. The vegetation is lush; and we hear the sounds of tropical birds and the ocean surf. All of which makes for a tropical paradise, human iguanas notwithstanding.
"The Night Of The Iguana" is a high quality cinematic production that has a lot to say about the human condition, via the dialogue's subtext. The film's scenery, even in B&W, is beautiful. The acting is very good. The costumes are interesting. And John Huston's direction is flawless.
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