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The Night of the Iguana

Rum Coco, anyone?

Tennessee Williams’ steamy tropical tale of an ex-minister on the verge of a nervous breakdown while leading a group of female American tourists in Mexico has entertained on stage and screen for decades. Largely due to its complex plot and a noteworthy cast, John Huston’s film version of The Night of the Iguana was an instant sensation when released in 1964.

Ironically, despite the big Hollywood names involved in the movie, the only awards linked to the film were for the less faaaabulous of the bunch. Grayson Hall was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress in her role as the latent lesbian villain fixed on ruining the life of Burton’s protagonist. Mexican Gabriel Figueroa was also nominated by Oscar, he for Best Cinematography. Don’t feel too bad for him, though, between The Night of the Iguana and another landmark movie shot in Mexico, Figueroa will not easily forgotten for his work behind the camera.

Oscar night wasn’t a complete disaster, however. The production did take home one golden statue for Best Costume Design.

Considered by many to be an American cinema classic, the film’s celluloid magnificence may be surpassed by its off-screen legacy. Due to the celebrity buzz created by its cast’s galaxy of stars, and Liz Taylor’s presence on set due to her highly publicized affair with Burton, The Night of the Iguana consistently gets props for “putting Puerto Vallarta on the map”. Yes, love, and lust, were definitely in the air. And the paparazzi was there too to make sure the whole word knew. Indeed, the city’s and region’s development owes something to the movie. It isn’t everyday when you see Lolita and Cleopatra walking down the street. How much is debatable.

Regardless of its artistic and entertainment value, one of the most remarkable features of The Night of the Iguana is its journalism. The movie does an extraordinary job of capturing sense of place. The jungle, beaches, tropical heat and humidity.and the blend of outsiders and locals are all very accurately represented.

Shot on location in Mismaloya, a short distance south of Puerto Vallarta, the film is an invaluable peek back in time at Puerto Vallarta and its surrounding areas. Yet, for those who have recently spent some time in Puerto Vallarta, especially its neighboring coastal villages to the less developed South, The Night of the Iguana, filmed almost half a century ago, is eerily current.

Or, as the old adage goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The obscure Puerto Vallarta that viewers glimpse Burton speed through in a bus is practically unrecognizable. Time, tourism and hurricanes have seen to that.

On the other hand, the film is spot on in regards to its representation of life in off the map places like Yelapa, Chimo and Corrales. (Maybe you’ve heard of the first?) In certain scenes of the movie—the beach cantina, the roadside iguanas, and Burton’s and Ava Gardner’s dips into the ocean—these littoral hamlets look and feel in many ways as they did 50 years ago.

See for yourself; watch the DVD. And if you do, don’t miss the special features section. You’ll know exactly what we are talking about. Or, go take an up-close look. We know a nice place where you can stay.

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