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The Night of the Iguana (film)

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The Night of the Iguana
Theatrical release poster by Howard Terpning
Directed byJohn Huston
Screenplay by
Based onThe Night of the Iguana
1961 play
by Tennessee Williams
Produced byRay Stark
CinematographyGabriel Figueroa
Edited byRalph Kemplen
Music byBenjamin Frankel
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • August 6, 1964 (1964-08-06) (New York City)
Running time
125 minutes (original)
118 minutes
(TCM print and edited version)
CountryUnited States
Budget$3 million[1]
Box office$12 million[1]

The Night of the Iguana is a 1964 American drama film directed by John Huston, based on the 1961 play of the same name by Tennessee Williams. It stars Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, Deborah Kerr, Grayson Hall, Sue Lyon, and Cyril Delevanti.[2]

The film won the 1964 Academy Award for Best Costume Design, and was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography. Actress Grayson Hall received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actress, and Cyril Delevanti received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor.[3] In addition to Delevanti's nomination at the Golden Globes, Ava Gardner also received a Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama nomination. Both the picture and its director, John Huston, likewise received Golden Globe nominations.


The preface to the story shows Episcopal clergyman T. Lawrence Shannon having a "nervous breakdown" after being ostracized by his congregation and defrocked for having an inappropriate relationship with a "very young Sunday school teacher."

Two years later, Shannon, now a tour guide for the bottom-of-the-barrel Texas company Blake's Tours, is taking a group of Baptist schoolteachers by bus to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The group's brittle leader is Miss Judith Fellowes, whose 16-year-old niece Charlotte Goodall tries to seduce Shannon. Meanwhile, Fellowes accuses Shannon of trying to seduce Charlotte and declares that she will ruin him.

While approaching the group's hotel in the bus, Shannon suddenly veers off and recklessly drives the terrified passengers to a cheap Costa Verde hotel in Mismaloya, then removes the distributor cap from the engine. Shannon assumes that the hotel is run by an old friend named Fred, but the man had died recently and the hotel is now run by Fred's widow, the bawdy and flamboyant Maxine Faulk. Shannon convinces Maxine to allow the tour group to stay at the hotel, believing that they will be unable to reach a phone or escape.

Another new arrival at the hotel is Hannah Jelkes, a beautiful and chaste itinerant painter from Nantucket who is traveling with her elderly poet grandfather Nonno. They have run out of money, but Shannon convinces Maxine to let them have a room. Over a long night, Shannon battles his weaknesses for both flesh and alcohol, Miss Fellowes' niece continues to make trouble for him, and he is "at the end of his rope," similar to how an iguana is kept tied by Maxine's cabana boys. Shannon suffers a breakdown, the cabana boys truss him in a hammock, and Hannah ministers to him there with poppy-seed tea and frank spiritual counsel. Shannon frees the iguana from its rope.

Hannah's grandfather delivers the final version of the poem that he has been laboring to finish, about having heart in a corrupt world, and then dies. The characters try to resolve their confused lives, with Shannon and Maxine deciding to run the hotel together, although Maxine had offered to walk away and let Hannah run the hotel with Shannon. Hannah walks away from her last chance at love.



James Garner claimed that he was originally offered the role played by Richard Burton but he declined because "it was just too Tennessee Williams for me."[4]

In September 1963, Huston, Lyon, and Burton, accompanied by Elizabeth Taylor, arrived at Puerto Vallarta—a "remote little fishing village"—for principal photography in Mismaloya,[5] which lasted 72 days.[6] Huston liked the area's fishing so much that he bought a $30,000 house "in a cottage colony eight miles outside town."[5][7][8][9]

By March 1964, months before the film's release, gossip about the film's production was widespread. Huston received a Writers Guild of America award for advancing "the literature of the motion picture through the years." At the award dinner, Allan Sherman performed a song to the tune of "Streets of Laredo" with lyrics that included, "They were down there to film The Night of the Iguana / With a star-studded cast and a technical crew. / They did things at night midst the flora and fauna / That no self-respecting iguana would do."[10]


The film grossed $12 million worldwide at the box office,[1] earning $4.5 million in U.S. theatrical rentals[11] It was the 10th highest-grossing film of 1964.

Time magazine's reviewer wrote, "Huston and company put together a picture that excites the senses, persuades the mind, and even occasionally speaks to the spirit—one of the best movies ever made from a Tennessee Williams play."[6]

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote:

Since difficulty of communication between individuals seems to be one of the sadder of human misfortunes that Tennessee Williams is writing about in his play, The Night of the Iguana, it is ironical that the film John Huston has made from it has difficulty in communicating, too. At least, it has difficulty in communicating precisely what it is that is so barren and poignant about the people it brings to a tourist hotel run by a sensual American woman on the west coast of Mexico. And because it does have difficulty—because it doesn't really make you see what is so helpless and hopeless about them—it fails to generate the sympathy and the personal compassion that might make their suffering meaningful.[12]

Crowther was particularly critical of Burton's performance: "Mr. Burton is spectacularly gross, a figure of wild disarrangement, but without a shred of real sincerity. You see a pot-bellied scarecrow flapping erratically. And in his ridiculous early fumbling with the Lolitaish Sue Lyon (whose acting is painfully awkward), he is farcical when he isn't grotesque."[12]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[3] Best Supporting Actress Grayson Hall Nominated
Best Art Direction – Black-and-White Stephen B. Grimes Nominated
Best Cinematography – Black-and-White Gabriel Figueroa Nominated
Best Costume Design – Black-and-White Dorothy Jeakins Won
British Academy Film Awards Best Foreign Actress Ava Gardner Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures John Huston Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Drama The Night of the Iguana Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Ava Gardner Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Cyril Delevanti Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Grayson Hall Nominated
Best Director – Motion Picture John Huston Nominated
Laurel Awards Top Drama The Night of the Iguana Nominated
Top Female Dramatic Performance Ava Gardner Nominated
San Sebastián International Film Festival Best Actress Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Written American Drama Anthony Veiller and John Huston Nominated


A statue of John Huston stands in Puerto Vallarta, celebrating the film's role in making the area a popular destination.[13]


  1. ^ a b c Box Office Information for The Night of the Iguana. IMDb via Internet Archive. Retrieved April 30, 2013.
  2. ^ Alpert, Hollis (1986). Burton. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 0-399-13093-4.
  3. ^ a b "Movies: The Night of the Iguana (1964)". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-08-08. Retrieved 2008-12-25.
  4. ^ "James Garner: You Ought to be in Pictures". Movieline. May 1, 1994. Retrieved 2012-04-19.
  5. ^ a b "Mexico: Everybody's Hideaway". Time. November 1, 1963. Archived from the original on February 4, 2013. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  6. ^ a b "Imaginary People, Real Hearts". Time. July 17, 1964. Archived from the original on December 14, 2011. Retrieved 2010-10-08. In ten wild weeks at a sunny place for shady people on Mexico's spectacular west coast, Huston and company put together a picture that excites the senses, persuades the mind, and even occasionally speaks to the spirit—one of the best movies ever made from a Tennessee Williams play.
  7. ^ "My 36 Hours in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico". Garrett On The Road. 29 March 2010. Retrieved 17 June 2023.
  8. ^ "Puerto Vallarta - Mismaloya & Malecon". Running from the Law. Retrieved 17 June 2023.
  9. ^ "Mismaloya". Puerto Vallarta News. 18 October 2014. Retrieved 17 June 2023.
  10. ^ "Hollywood: Your Place or Mine?". Time. March 20, 1964. Archived from the original on December 14, 2011. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  11. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, 6 January 1965 p 39.
  12. ^ a b Crowther, Bosley (July 1, 1964). "'Night of the Iguana' Has World Premiere". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2021-10-05. Retrieved 2010-10-08.
  13. ^ ""John Huston" by Carlos Ramírez, 1988". puertovallarta.net. 13 September 2017. Retrieved 2 November 2017.

External links[edit]