The Night of the Iguana is a mid 1960s film that is more of a cultural indicator of where the studio system was at the time. While the play keeps getting revived to discover something new, it remains one of the hardest Tennessee Williams stories to sell to the wider audience. But, why?
Richard Burton in a Tennessee Williams joint
When MGM and other studios went deep on the Tennessee Williams adaptations, they told on themselves a bit. Basically, Tennessee Williams wrote in the Southern Gothic style. That methodology and trappings has eluded Hollywood in a way that all of their repeat attempts to replicated have resulted in half-formed recreations.
For those of you that didn’t have narrative tradition beaten into your skull from an early age, I’ll break it down for you. The Southern Gothic movement was the reappraisal of culture and beauty in the immediate aftermath of The Civil War and its decades’ long decay on the region. Northern writers and critics would be fast to use the term to dismiss any work originating south of the Mason/Dixon line. But, it wouldn’t be until the mid 20th Century where it came closest to mainstream acceptance.
When someone from LA or the North tries to do Southern Gothic, it becomes a story about people longing for a time that was dead before they existed. However, when someone from the region does a story about Southern Gothic style trappings, it becomes a group of lost and screwed-up people trying to find an identity when none exists. If this starts to inform your viewing of Night of the Iguana, then good.
Religion vs. Hollywood
Rich Hall did an amazing documentary about Southern Culture on film for BBC4 circa 2010/2011. While Episcopal reverend T. Lawrence Shannon is given more to do in the Williams play, he becomes something else in Richard Burton’s performance in the film. Night of the Iguana almost needs the play backing to explain why Shannon had his breakdown and why he’s now leading a tour group into Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
In the play, Shannon opens the events by coming to a realization that has been nagging at him for awhile. God is a senior delinquent or absentee landlord and nothing humanity does matter. In the film version of Night of the Iguana, Shannon freaks out on the congregation one day and gets fired. For what is meant to be a moody exotic location romance, you can’t drop serious religious philosophy on people and then go into a Burton/Kerr romance.
James Garner was originally offered the Burton role, but turned it down for being too melodramatic. Well, Night of the Iguana is a Tennessee Williams story. It’s like watching a Spielberg movie and wondering what’s up with all of the Daddy issues. Certain creators bring certain baggage with them and you’ve got to roll with it. That being said, director John Huston does his best.
Warner Archive loads up The Night of the Iguana
Warner Archive keeps smashing out those hits. You get featurettes and trailers as the special features. It’s a fun look back at what created the movie and what choices were made in the adaptation. The A/V Quality is also quite strong with a clean 1080p transfer for the Oscar nominated cinematography. Plus, you get a DTS-HD 2.0 mono track that is respectful of the original audio elements.
Warner Archive has had an insane 2022 and I hope they keep it up throughout 2023. There are so many classic titles appearing in HD on HBO Max that I pray for crazier and deeper cuts as the new year begins.