From the vault: 1964

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 April, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 April, 2007, 12:00am

The Night of the Iguana

Starring: Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr

Director: John Huston

The film: In 1963, the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta was a sleepy backwater with no regular air links and no tourism industry to speak of. That year, director John Huston arrived with Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr to shoot The Night of the Iguana. Burton had Elizabeth Taylor in tow so the paparazzi followed. Thanks to the publicity and the film's attractive location shots, Puerto Vallarta is today Mexico's second-most popular holiday destination (after Cancun), and receives about 1.5 million tourists a year.

Based on the Tennessee Williams play of the same name, The Night of the Iguana was mostly filmed along the coast from Puerto Vallarta in the isolated village of Mismaloya, where the derelict film set is still a tourist attraction. Burton's character, a defrocked clergyman now working as a tour guide, arrives with a busload of middle-aged American women, hoping to install them in his friend's clifftop hotel. But the friend has died, leaving his wife (Gardner) to rescue Burton from a rapidly approaching nervous breakdown.

Just before their arrival he was caught with the group's only young girl (played by 17-year-old Sue Lyon, who two years earlier had the title role in Stanley Kubrick's Lolita) in his hotel room, and her chaperone is charging him with statutory rape and is trying to get him fired.

Soon after the group reaches Gardner's hotel, Kerr's wandering artist arrives on the scene, to add to Burton's sexual confusion, and so ensues a verbose final act that ends in some sort of redemption for the former priest.

As with many Williams adaptations, the script, although clever, comes off as more of a series of quotable one-liners than a naturally constructed dialogue, which is unfortunate in a story attempting to plumb the murkier depths of human emotion.

Burton (above with Lyons) and Kerr, who play American characters, speak in their native British accents, which are at times quite unsuited to the very American vernacular particular to Williams' writing.

But The Night of the Iguana has enough star appeal and fine Oscar-nominated cinematography (by Luis Bunuel regular Gabriel Figueroa) to keep most viewers happy. The extra features included on this DVD also bring to life the interesting back-story behind what was an unusually troubled and arduous production.

The extras: The Night of the Iguana: Huston's Gamble is a new 10-minute documentary looking back at the trials and tribulations of filming in a remote tropical location with a group of performers who were at each other's throats for much of the time. On the Trail of the Iguana (15 minutes) presents a much more upbeat version of events, offering wonderful views of this then-unspoiled corner of Mexico.

The widescreen-enhanced transfer is the best of all the Williams adaptations recently released (individually and in a box set) by Warner Bros.