The Night of the Iquana (1964) is an adaptation of Tennessee William’s play by the same name. The story centers around Rev. Larry Shannon, an Episcopal priest who was removed from his church for preaching atheist ideals, Maxine, the manager of a hotel in Puerto Vallarta and Hannah, a forty-year old spinster to travels the world with her ailing grandfather.
Directed by John Huston, this film highlights the importance of women through the four main females in the cast (each with their own element of femininity) with the overarching theme about being “at the end of a rope” playing out through Shannon’s life and the tied-up iguana.
Shannon is quite literally at the end of his rope, which he explains to Maxine in the middle of the film. He has been locked out of his church because he had sex with a minor, and the situation resulted in her attempting suicide. This caused Shannon to break in the middle of a sermon, yelling at his parishioners. He takes a job with a tour company, “giving tours of God’s country by a man of God”, but he was tempted yet again by a young female named Charlotte. Charlotte’s role is the youthful female, flirtatious and tempting. Charlotte and Shannon clash with Miss Fellows, the leader of the Baptist female group. Miss Fellows is a repressed, implied lesbian who is determined to fire Shannon.
If she succeeds, Shannon is done. He will have nowhere to go. He turns to Maxine for help – ending up in Puerto Vallarta. Even though this movie was filmed in the early 1960s and based in the early 1940s, Maxine is ultra-sexual beyond her time. She carries on with the cabana boys and is incredibly free with her sexuality and her body.
In contrast, the final main female is Hannah, who helps calm Shannon during a moment of mental instability. Hannah is about as asexual as Maxine is sexual. She is a spinster in her forties who has had two sexual experiences, neither one of them actually extremely sexual. She is completely broke and trying to get by with her ailing grandfather.
In this film, Shannon, the masculine character, is the weakest one, while the four feminine characters are the ones who take action, and try to bring down or save the male character. It is an interesting choice for Williams to write that way in the early 1960s, but it could also be a result of William’s sexuality.
One thing that I am sad is missing from the movie is the Nazis, though I think it would have added an unnecessary element to the plot that would have needed to be explained further; it is clear in the play that they are the happiest characters whose world hasn’t fallen apart yet, unlike the other characters – but without a good time frame for the movie, that is difficult to grasp.
- Maybe I just don’t like plays that are adapted into films, but I thought it was heavy in dialogue and there were several times that I was impressed the actors managed to memorize everything.
- Did you know there wasn’t even a flight to Puerto Vallarta before this film? But thank you Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, now its one of the most popular vacation spots in Mexico