I knew how to be a good parent by the time I was ten years old. Having an educator for a mother led to frequent dinner conversations about neglectful, selfish parents at Mom’s school who seemed to know less about raising children than I did. My egg babies had happier childhoods than some of these poor little saplings. Names of the top offenders quickly became familiar to me, and at times I assumed Mom was making up these fascinating stories . . . as a ten-year-old, it’s hard to believe that adults – moms and dads, nonetheless – could be as truly mindless as Mom reported. Granted, every home is different, and who’s to say that we know more about raising a child than someone else . . . but c’mon, some of these affluent bozos were practically plucked out of a FOX series premiere.
In my wholesome household, a scheduled, age-appropriate talk about sex or about drugs was unnecessary; the taboo topics were instead part of ongoing dialogue . . . y’know, between frequent viewings of Animal House and Dirty Dancing. Instead of deemed inappropriate, a dirty joke was likely to be praised, depending on the degree of wit found in its punch line. Shel Silverstein’s adult poems that involve horribly gruesome acts of violence were to be cherished, recited, and respected as brilliant pieces of writing and performance. When it comes to most (perhaps not all, but most) acts of wicked indulgence, Dad was probably right – everything in moderation.
When offered the lead role in The Night of the Iguana, James Garner is rumored to have said, “It was just too ‘Tennessee Williams’ for me.” Adapting these amazing plays for the screen is hardly an easy undertaking, but already a fan of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Suddenly, Last Summer, I had no choice but to go in with unfairly high expectations. There was no Elizabeth Taylor; there was no Brando or Leigh; be still, my heart, there was no Hepburn . . . but these are horrendously impossible acts to follow. A Tennessee Williams plot was guaranteed to contain elements of wicked, perhaps immoral, indulgences here ‘n’ there, and who better than Richard Burton to take the helm, and on a ship built by the great director John Huston?
As a possibly disrobed priest, Richard Burton sinks deeper and deeper into one of those swirling vortexes of despair, until only the most moral of women can pull him out and force him to face himself. Surrounding him is every type of woman the cookie cutter could cut, from the young Lolita and the old crotchety Bible-thumper to the sassy aging vixen with a heart of gold (played by good ol’ Ava Gardner who has a shocking little threesome with her houseboys). With varying methods, each woman has a lesson to teach the intense Mr. Burton, should he choose to take it in. If you’re unfamiliar with the Tennessee Williams worldview of family, love, sex, and morality, this one may be a good “feet wetter.”
But for me, well . . . both Dad and James Garner were right.
Academy Award for The Night of the Iguana (1965): Best Costume Design (Black-and-White)