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Huston, Williams and Burton deliver a classic on Blu-ray: “The Night of the Iguana”


Richard Burton plays Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon, a disgraced, defrocked Episcopal minister, who is pursued by Charlotte Goodall, a seductive 18-year-old played by Sue Lyon.

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Blu-ray; 1964; unrated

Best extra: “Huston’s Gamble” documentary

DIRECTOR John Huston’s (“The Maltese Falcon,” “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “The African Queen”) adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play is as marvelous as the appearance of those two geniuses’ names in the same sentence might suggest. Shot on location on an island off Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and starring Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, and Sue Lyon, the film has it all: brilliant performances, sharp social satire, and plenty of raunchy humor.

Burton plays T. Lawrence Shannon, a disgraced, defrocked Episcopal minister, whose drinking and penchant for much younger women had gotten him kicked out of his church. Now, reduced to being a tour guide for a busload of prissy Texas schoolmarms, trouble finds Shannon again. This time, it’s in the very shapely form of Charlotte (Lyon), a sexually precocious teenager who pounces on Shannon every chance she gets. Charlotte’s chaperone, Miss Fellowes (Grayson Hall), who is also the leader of the group, misconstrues Charlotte’s presence in Shannon’s hotel room one evening, and threatens to destroy him.

So, Shannon more or less hijacks the tour bus, takes the group away from the town, and to another hotel – one owned by his friends and set deep in the Mexican jungle and, he hopes, far from contact with the outside world. As it turns out, Shannon’s buddy Fred has died, and the hotel is closed for the month, but Fred’s widow Maxine (Ava Gardner) reluctantly agrees to let Shannon and his charges stay. The group is eventually joined by Hannah (Deborah Kerr) and her ailing nonagenarian grandfather (Cyril Delevanti), who are virtually broke, but willing to perform for their supper – Hannah with her cooking and artistic skills; and granddad with recitations of his poetry. Things get progressively more complicated and explosive, thanks to an abundance of alcohol, Charlotte’s aggressive persistence, Miss Fellowes’ growing outrage, and Maxine’s apparent attraction to Shannon. There’s never a slow or dull moment in this wonderfully entertaining movie, thanks to Williams’s sparkling dialogue, Huston’s brilliant direction, and the excellent cast.

Nothing could be worse for a girl in your unstable condition, to be mixed up with a man in, in my unstable condition because two people in unstable conditions are like two countries facing each other in unstable conditions. The, eh, destructive potential, eh, could blow the whole world to bits! - T. Lawrence Shannon

(1) “The Night of the Iguana” premiered in New York City on August 6, 1964. It received four Oscar nominations and won Best Costume Design. (2&3) Rev. Shannon has a nervous breakdown at this church after being ostracized by his congregation. (4&5) Now a tour guide in Mexico, Shannon watches locals bathe and wash their clothes in a river as the tour bus crosses over the river. (6) Miss Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall), leader of the Baptist schoolteachers group, and aunt to Charlotte. (7) Hank Prosner (Skip Ward), the tour bus driver.


This Warner Archives Blu-ray derives from a 4K scan of the original black and white negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio). It looks fantastic, with great depth, contrast, and subtle variants from light to dark. Close-ups reveal every hair and drop of perspiration, and a warm filmic grain texturizes the entire film.

The DTS-HD 2.0 audio is also very fine, with Williams’ dialogue given the clarity it deserves. Sound effects and Benjamin Frankel’s score are perfectly balanced and English subtitles are provided.


Two bonus features come on this disc, both imported from Warner’s 2006 DVD version of the film. “On the Trail of the Iguana” is a nice promotional mini-documentary showing Huston at work in Mexico, and behind-the-scenes shots of the stars, including Burton’s guest, Elizabeth Taylor.

“The Night of the Iguana: Huston’s Gamble,” made by Turner Entertainment, provides a lot more background and information, and features comments by Huston, film historians Eric Lax and Lawrence Grobel and Tennessee Williams’ biographer Donald Spoto. Spoto explains that Taylor’s presence on the shoot caused quite a distraction, especially as she was still married to Eddie Fisher at the time. “She was Cleopatra,” Spoto says, “come to town with her entourage. Their presence caused a platoon of paparazzi and reporters.” Film historian Eric Lax notes that Huston “knew all the tricks … he was a great adapter of literary material, and loved being on location.” Lax adds that Huston especially liked locations that were “remote and uncomfortable,” because that put the actors “off-balance,” which evoked “great performances.” Lax also credits Huston with a deep understanding of human nature who was able to “defuse situations involving so many volatile actors.”

Spoto explains that, in addition to Taylor, another uninvited guest showed up: Tennessee Williams. The playwright could easily have been a source of trouble for Huston, but ended up helping to fix a complicated scene. Spoto describes “Night of the Iguana” as a “meditation on human need and frailty,” with the message that “all we have is one another.”

— Peggy Earle

(1) Shannon disables the tour bus and he forces the women to stay at a cheap Costa Verde hotel owned by his friend Maxine, played by Ava Gardner. (2) Maxine gives Shannon a shave. (3) Artist Hannah Jelkes played by Deborah Kerr, and her ailing nonagenarian grandfather (Cyril Delevanti) arrive at the hotel nearly penniless. (4) Shannon suffers another breakdown, and Maxine’s cabana boys truss him into a hammock. (5) Maxine and her two cabana boys have a late-night encounter on the beach. (6) Hannah consoles Shannon and gives him some poppy-seed tea to calm him down. (7) Shannon decides to start a new life at Maxine’s hotel.


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