“This is a test of strength between two men and a crate of wetheads.”
Night of the Iguana is essentially a character study, following the existential crisis of a man whose family legacy of both spiritual leadership and irresistible “appetites” continues to haunt him. While fending off lust for a nubile young blonde (Lyons) — whose reciprocal interest verges on either harassment or devilish “intervention” — he finds himself dogged by Hall, who functions as a potent reminder of the sanctimonious judgment he’s tried unsuccessfully to run away from. He relies on the steady friendship of earthy Maxine (Gardner) to ground him, literally alighting on her property as a source of refuge, then embarks on a continued quest-for-solace once ethereal yet pragmatic Hannah Jelkes (Kerr) arrives with her elderly father. Gardner and Kerr represent more than merely a traditional “love triangle” in this film: they offer alternative approaches to life, allowing Burton to envision a way out of the quagmire of lustful escapism he’s been plagued by his entire existence.
While the storyline itself merits nearly endless discussion and debate (that Williams sure could spin a meaty yarn!), Night of the Iguana works remarkably well as a cinematic venture as well. As usual, Huston’s directorial hand is not only steady but incisive, framing characters and situations with a precision aimed at not-so-subtly influencing our perspective. Gabriel Figueroa’s black-and-white cinematography is crisp and gorgeous, and the location sets are inspired. Meanwhile, performances across the board are top-notch — from Burton’s tour-de-force lead to the various female roles (not just Hall, but Kerr and Gardner as well). This classic “morality tale” is one all film fanatics should see at least once, and will likely enjoy returning to.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments: