Cameron Kelsall: Style subsumes substance in The Night of the Iguana. It’s one of Tennessee Williams’ more coherent later plays, and John Huston’s black-and-white adaptation is gorgeous to look at, the Mexican beachside locale projecting the right sense of tropical heat. The principal actors are gorgeous too: Richard Burton, in spectacular ruin; Ava Gardner, in a slightly seedier take on her femme fatale persona; Sue Lyon, once again in Lolita mode. The striking costumes by Dorothy Jeakins won a well-deserved Oscar. Yet for all its sordid seductiveness, this treatment doesn’t quite hit in the same way as its flawed but compelling source material. If it’s not exactly a day at the beach, it’s not really the dark night of the soul it should be, either.
David Fox: Wow, Cameron—you’re feeling a lot more generous about this than I am! To me, the Huston film is almost a total debacle from start to finish, and only enjoyable or even comprehensible for a few moments of unintentional high camp. I shouldn’t be surprised, since while watching it, I realized two things: 1) Considering that the play is generally regarded by critics as the point of no return for Williams, it’s actually done quite often—in fact, after Streetcar and Glass Menagerie, it’s the play of his I’ve seen most often: at least four productions, each at a starry professional level. 2) Why do I do this to myself? I’ve never seen one that convinced me the original short story should have been adapted for the theater. But literally none of the stage versions I’ve seen was remotely as adrift as this film.
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