Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

A '60s classic: Night of the Iguana

Almost 1,100 posts and I have not got around to NIGHT OF THE IGUANA ! - maybe the last great film from a Tennessee Williams play, and one of the great dramas of that classic era for them: the '50s and '60s. Also, a key John Huston film from 1964, with maybe the last great roles for Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. The roles of Hannah Jelkes (Kerr) and Maxine (Ava) seem equally balanced, hard to decide which is the bigger role, we see more of Maxine initially but then Hannah seems to take over in that late great scene with the defrocked Reverend Shannon - for once, Burton is ideally cast here as he rants and rants. Throw in the LOLITA nymphet Sue Lyon and Grayson Hall as that schoolteacher, and of course the old poet Nonno and you have one of the great Williams plays. Its a film one can watch and enjoy on many levels, no matter how often one has seen it (and its certainly rewatchable!) - a great cast performing one of Williams' best plays with great dialogue to savour, by a great director giving full rein to the play and the players.

John Huston makes a terrific film of it all, and it certainly put Puerto Vallerta in Mexico on the map, black and white actually suits it, it might have looked too lurid in colour, and the play - I enjoyed reading it as a teenager - has been suitably modernised for the cinema, taking out those annoying Germans in the background was a good idea! It starts of course with Maxine idling with her 2 beach boys and that tied up iguana (it tastes like chicken apparantly) scrabbling to get free, as the defrocked priest turns up with his latest tour bus of old ladies, led by the fearsome Miss Fellowes (Hall) and her charge Charlotte (Lyon) who has eyes for the bus driver Skip Ward.
Then we get down on their luck sketch artist Hannah Jelkes and her ancient (94 I think) father, the poet, who also turn up. Maxine wants to get rid of them but Rev Shannon intercedes ... Charlotte causes more trouble for Shannon but the tour bus eventually leaves, after the priest saves Miss Fellowes from discovering her real interest in wilful pretty young Charlotte ....he and Hannah have that long soul-bearing conversation where she discloses her erotic encounters and how she and her father travel paying their way with their sketches and poems. Miss Jelkes is quite a hustler in her own way ...
Kerr is brilliant here and gets every nuance of her character, with her lines like "Nothing human disgusts me, Mr. Shannon, unless it's unkind or violent" and how she gained control over her demons by out-lasting them. Then there is "operating on the fantastic level and the realistic level" and of course the iguana "one of God's creatures at the end of his rope" get cut loose and escapes the cooking pot. Ava too is in her element, pushing around her cart of "complimentary rum-cocoas" ...
I liked this enormously when I was 18, back then while new in London it was a treat to travel into the West End and see a big new movie in a first run cinema on a Sunday night, and The Empire in Leicester Square was certainly the ticket, where I saw THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE and NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, and I also remember the first run of YESTERDAY TODAY & TOMORROW at the Plaza (now a supermarket where I later saw first runs of AMERICAN GIGOLO and BLOODLINE - well it starred Audrey Hepburn with Romy Schneider and that great cast!).

Bette in the original production
NIGHT OF THE IGUANA has proved to be endurable, and gets staged regularly, I have seen Sian Phillips as Hannah, where she was ideal too. That initial production must have been astonishing, in 1962 - Margaret Leighton a perfect Hannah and Bette Davis going over the top as Maxine, she was not happy in the role and left the production and ended up playing to her fans who came to see Bette camp it up. Ava (a much more sensual and earthy Maxine) and Deborah and Burton do some of their best work in the film, it must have been a fascinating set - Elizabeth Taylor was there as well, as well as Kerr's new husband writer Peter Viertel, an old friend of Huston's. They certainly did Tennessee proud. It was Huston's late great period too, from HEAVEN KNOWS MR ALLISON, THE UNFORGIVEN, THE MISFITS - there is a lot of fun in IGUANA by comparison, and then his late classics like FAT CITY (when I saw him being interviewed at London's BFI) and THE DEAD in '87. I have his UNDER THE VOLCANO with Finney lined upo to see soon too.
That Tennessee box set was an essential purchase some years ago in the great days of dvd, with that restored STREETCAR, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOFSWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, IGUANA and THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS STONE. Add in SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, SUMMER AND SMOKE, BABY DOLL, THE ROSE TATTOO, THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED, THE GLASS MENAGERIE, THE FUGITIVE KIND, Losey's very odd BOOM! ... which may only leave his comedy PERIOD OF ADJUSTMENT I have not seen. I also saw his plays like SMALL CRAFT WARNINGS, and of course I love his short stories like "Two On A Party" and "The Malediction". The plays are great to read, and those collected short stories. Claire Bloom was a terrific Blanche too in that 1974 STREETCAR  production, but of course most ladies want to play Blanche - I bet Faye Dunway was a mesmerising one.

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