How calmly does the olive branch Observe the sky begin to blanch
Without a cry, without a prayer With no betrayal of despair
Some time while night obscures the tree The zenith of its life will be
Gone past forever And from thence
A second history will commence
A chronicle no longer gold A bargaining with mist and mold And finally the broken stem The plummeting to earth; and then
An intercourse not well designed For beings of a golden kind Whose native green must arch above The earth’s obscene, corrupting love
And still, the ripe fruit and the branch Observe the sky begin to blanch Without a cry, without a prayer With no betrayal of despair
Oh courage! Could you not as well Select a second place to dwell Not only in that golden tree But in the frightened heart of me?
John Huston’s adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play stars Richard Burton as the protagonist, Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon. An alcoholic, Shannon has been kicked out of his own church and is now working in Mexico as a bus tour guide. He takes a group of schoolteachers to a dilapidated hotel run by widowed Maxine Raulk (Ava Gardner), where they all are soon stranded.
The youngest of the group, Charlotte Goodall (Sue Lyon), is attracted to Shannon, but Judith (Grayson Hall), the group’s leader, is set against it. After catching Shannon and Charlotte together, Judith threatens to report Shannon’s behavior to his employers to have him fired. Soon Hannah (Deborah Kerr), an idealistic young artist, and her poet grandfather (Cyril Delvanti) arrive at the hotel while Hannah and bus driver Hank (James Ward) begin to grow closer.
All of the actors play their roles straight, and the film mostly benefits from their performances. The sultry Ava Gardner comes across well, though her career would slide into oblivion as the 1960s progressed. As the drunk and defrocked priest lusted after by three very different women, Richard Burton tends to go over-the-top. There was reportedly a great deal of tension on the set among the leads, who were stuck on location in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
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 an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and Cyril Delevanti received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
The Night of the Iguana drew considerable attention for its on-set drama, since Richard Burton brought his soon-to-be-wife Elizabeth Taylor to the location set.