Notes from ningyo editions studio and gallery

Lobby Card #8: The Night of the Iguana

david curcio

Lobby Card: The Night of the Iguana (woodcut and drypoint with embroidered border)

The Night of the Iguana features Richard Burton at his most manic (is that saying much?) as the disgraced, defrocked Reverend Shannon.  Veiled allusions to statutory rape suggest the cause of his ostracism, reducing him to a job he considers the last grasp at existence, which happens to be leading bus tours in Mexico.  It is for him the final stop before the “long swim.”
After unceremoniously chasing his parishioners from his church at the film’s opening, we find the sweaty, booze-soaked Shannon leading a tour group (needy middle-aged women from a music class lead by a bitter lesbian, where “Happy Days are Here Again” is sung repeatedly on the bus to Burton’s great distress).  The woman’s constant threats to report Shannon’s behavior result in his alternate panic and drunken insouciance.
Complicating matters is a precocious teenager (Sue Lyon of Lolita) in tow with the group who repeatedly throws herself at the reverend.  Unable to endure the temptation and stresses closing in on him, Burton shanghais the bus and brings the group to a friend’s hotel, gutting the engine so as to trap them there.  His friend, however, is dead, having left the hotel to his wife (a smouldering Ava Gardner) who runs it with her duo of native, shirtless “beach boys” with whom she partakes of saucy late-night frolics in the sea.  Liz Taylor apparently made frequent visits to the set in order to make sure her incorrigible Dickie behaved around his co-star.  Gardner, however, was apparently kept in good company by the beach boys off-screen, with little interest in the Old Welshman.

Richard Burton and Ava Gardner

Richard Burton and Ava Gardner

Enter a young woman – and old maid before her time – played by Deborah Kerr with her poet grandfather, and an iguana tied to a post for fattening.  Shannon’s stress and drinking lead to a breakdown requiring restraints and opium tea to calm him. Embarrassed at his distress and the sickness it brings on, Kerr tells him “Nothing disgusts me that is human…  except cruelty”.  As the evening descends, Burton tells Kerr of the difference between the natural world vs. the Fantastic, and his predicament in vacillating between the two, fearing for his sanity.

The Reverend Shannon and the Temptations of Sue Lyon.

The Temptations of the Reverend Shannon in the form of Sue Lyon.

Directed by John Huston and based on the play by Tennessee Williams, we watch in suspense what I can only describe as a perfect a film.  … Will the iguana ultimately be cut loose and set free?  Yes, “…We’ll play God tonight.” But what about Shannon?



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