night of the iguana (1964)

a quick witted, sharp tongued film directed by john huston, based on the tennessee williams play.

richard burton plays lawrence shannon, previously known as rev. dr. lawrence shannon. the film opens with shannon at the pulpit preaching to a full congregation. his monologue quickly turns abusive as he turns on his flock, accusing them of being nothing more than rumour mongers that have turned against him. apparently the good reverend has a past involving a weakness for young women and strong drink.

the film switches scenes to show us shannon working as a tour guide in mexico. his current contract has him toting around a busload of do-gooders led by the cantankerous judith fellowes (grayson hall). this time it is the young and pretty charlotte goodall (sue lyon) that is messing up shannon’s mind with desire. he is a man on the brink of caving in again to his emotional needs and physical urges. he spends the bulk of the film trying to sustain the belief that he is a man of god, although he is well aware that charlotte is enough to have him permanently defrocked.

things shift dramatically when hannah jelkes (deborah kerr) and her grandfather nonno (cyril delevanti) make an entrance. the movie becomes more concerned with the nature of human relationships and the concept of love. this combination of wit and drama illustrates what wise selections were made in casting. but no matter how meditative or dramatic there is still great humour:

hannah jelkes: “there are worse things than chastity, mr. shannon”

lawrence shannon: “yes, lunacy and death.”

the noble savage attitude dates the film, but otherwise it is held up with quick dialogue, colourful characters, and lively acting. the strong, independent female character maxine faulk (ava gardner) is most memorable.

immediately i was struck by how this movie should be remade with russell crowe as shannon, and someone like susan sarandon as judith. i’m not sure which actress of the moment would play charlotte or what firecracker could play maxine (salma hayek?).

however, a quick peek in the imdb shows that it was already remade in 2001 by predrag antonijevic. and guess who it starred? jeremy irons.