The Night of the Iguana (film)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Night of the Iguana is a 1964 film based on the 1961 play The Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams. Directed by John Huston, it starred Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, and Deborah Kerr. It won the 1964 Academy Award for Best Costume Design, and was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography. Actress Grayson Hall received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and Cyril Delevanti received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor. The film drew considerable attention for stories around its production, since Richard Burton had brought his soon-to-be-wife Elizabeth Taylor to the location shoot. The filming attracted large numbers of paparazzi, and turned the city of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico into a world-famous tourist attraction.



The preface to the story shows Episcopal minister Reverend Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton) having a "nervous breakdown" after being ostracized by his congregation for having an inappropriate relationship in Virginia with "a very young Sunday school teacher." The film's main story then begins at a point two years later, where Shannon, now a tour guide for bottom-of-the-barrel Texas tour company Blake Tours, is taking a group of Baptist School teachers in a rickety and sweltering bus to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The group's brittle group leader is Miss Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall), whose 17-year-old niece Charlotte Goodall (Sue Lyon) tries to seduce Shannon. Charlotte's aunt, described as "butch" by the other characters, accuses Shannon of trying to seduce her niece and fires him, declaring that she wants to ruin him. In a moment of despair, Shannon shanghais the bus and occupants, and tries to prevent Fellowes from calling his boss by stranding their bus at a cheap (and, he mistakenly thinks, phoneless) Costa Verde Hotel in Mismaloya on the coast of Mexico. Shannon thinks that the hotel is still run by an old friend named Fred, but finds that Fred has died a month earlier, and the hotel is now run by Fred's widow, Maxine Faulk (Ava Gardner). Maxine is more interested in Shannon than her current two maraca-shaking cabana boys. Shannon also meets another woman there, Hannah Jelkes (Deborah Kerr), a beautiful and chaste itinerant painter from Nantucket who appears at the hotel with her elderly poet grandfather (Cyril Delevanti). Hannah and her grandfather have run out of money, but Shannon convinces Maxine to let them have rooms. Over a long night, Shannon battles his weaknesses for both flesh and alcohol: Miss Fellowes' niece continues to make trouble for him, and he is "at the end of his rope", just like the iguana kept tied by Maxie's cabana boys. Shannon suffers a breakdown, the cabana boys truss him in a hammock, and Hannah ministers to him there with poppy-seed tea and frank spiritual counsel.

Hannah's grandfather delivers the final version of the poem he has been laboring to finish and dies. The characters try to make some resolve of their confused lives with the final reconciliation of Shannon and Maxine deciding to run the hotel together, and Hannah stoically walking away from her last chance at love.



Academy Awards

Golden Globes

Production notes

  • The film version removes the Nazi tourist characters from the original stage version.
  • The film was shot just south of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in Mismaloya, Mexico. At the time there was no road from Puerto Vallarta to Mismaloya. The cast and crew commuted via barges down the coast for filming. Due in no small part to the presence of cast member Richard Burton and actress Elizabeth Taylor, who were carrying on a very public affair at the time (1963), the filming attracted large numbers of paparazzi, made international headlines, and in turn made Puerto Vallarta world-famous.
  • Three of the stars were involved in romantic affairs while the film was made, and all four stars had their share of arguments with Huston. A hotel and resort complex, La Joya de Mismaloya now occupies the bayfront at what is now the village of Mismaloya; it maintains the old sets as restaurants and tourist attractions.
  • A statue of John Huston was eventually erected in Puerto Vallarta, where it still stands, because of his role in creating the city's current reputation.
  • John Huston later built a beach front home south of Mismaloya in Quimixto, a remote coastal town which is still only accessible by boat.

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