Wednesday, February 13, 2013

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Casting Coup Month: The Night of the Iguana

NOMINATIONS
Best Costume Design - Dorothy Jeakins (WON)
 
It has all led to this.




At the last minute, sure. There is but one more hour before the day ends on the West Coast, but still I'm here. Ready to deliver my final Casting Coup of the month, ready for the Hollmann Awards to begin tomorrow.

The Night of the Iguana is a John Huston film adapted by him and Gladys Hill from a play by Tennessee Williams, the thing to do back then. It was more popular in the 50s, but I guess by the 60s they were running out of plays and things were getting repetitive (people yell a lot in his stuff), so after things were beginning to quiet down on these adaptations. But not yet.

It's the story of Reverend Shannon, an Episcopalian minister run out of his church after an indiscretion with a choir girl. He becomes a tour guide in Mexico, and his latest tour group includes a nubile nymphet who throws herself at him. With the group turning on him, Shannon takes them to a run-down hotel run by a friend of his -- who's dead, but leaves a widow with eyes for Shannon. Holed up for the night, the group is soon joined by spinster Hannah Jelkes and her grandfather, a former poet laureate.

What can I say about The Night of the Iguana? It's got a weird tone throughout, darkly comic and hypnotic. You feel the heat, with those claustrophobic close-ups of the actors' sweating faces and the white, blown-out daytime cinematography. At times, director Huston cranks the speed on the camera, most notably when Charlotte and Maxine are dancing with the cabana boys. The costumes really are costumes -- everyone seems to have just one outfit, but they're so perfect for the characters, setting and heightened crazy that Dorothy Jeakins wound winning the Oscar for them. (Incidentally, she also won the Hollmann Award)

And then there are the bizarre yet perfect performances from the ensemble, from the nominated Grayson Hall as closeted lesbian/church choir leader Judith Fellowes to Deborah Kerr's dreamy spinster Hannah.

It will be hard, of course, to top an ensemble like that. So I won't even try. I hope, though, I've come up with a modern equivalent.


NONNO
Who is He: Hannah's grandfather, a poet laureate working on his final, greatest work. Otherwise, almost completely incommunicado.

Originally played by: Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Night of the Iguana)

Cyril Delevanti (The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Killing of Sister George)

My Choice:
Clu Gulager (The Return of the Living Dead, The Hidden)


CHARLOTTE GOODALL
Who is She: The sixteen-year-old daughter of a wealthy Texas businessman, Charlotte is a teen in the classic Lolita mold: young, horny, and into older men. Her liaison with Rev. Shannon leads to his desperate detour to the Costa Verde Hotel.

Originally played by:
Sue Lyon (Lolita, The Flim-Flam Man)

My Choice: 
AnnaSophia Robb (Race to Witch Mountain, Soul Surfer)
I think she was also my Lolita when I cast that. Perhaps when I recast 7 Women, she'll play the mission girl. Ha!


MISS JUDITH FELLOWES
Who is She: Charlotte's chaperone from the Baptist Church, a spinster who is always snapping at Shannon's heels. Maxine is the one who outs her as a butch, but Miss Fellowes herself seems unaware of this aspect of herself. A very moral woman, as Shannon says, she has hidden the truth from herself.

Originally played by: Hollmann Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress, Academy Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (The Night of the Iguana)
Grayson Hall (Satan in High Heels, "Dark Shadows")

My Choice: Academy Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Hannah and Her Sisters, Bullets Over Broadway), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Radio Days), Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Bullets Over Broadway), SAG Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Bullets Over Broadway) and Best Ensemble (The Birdcage)
Dianne Wiest (The Lost Boys, Rabbit Hole)
No matter how I picture this, it's always Wiest as Miss Fellowes. What a superb performance it would make! Lady Di(anne)'s soft voice can be adjusted to be more threatening, more dangerous -- as surely Judith is -- but I would rather she keep her current register for the role. Soft-spoken and stern.


MAXINE FAULK
Who is She: Brassy, earthy owner of Costa Verde Hotel, as left to her upon the death of her husband. The Faulks are old friends of Shannon's, and Maxine has an interest in him. She has no patience for stick-up-the-arse types like Miss Fellowes, nor is she completely warm to Hannah. Maxine is kind of awesome.

Originally played by: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (The Night of the Iguana), Academy Award Nominee for Best Actress (Mogambo), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Foreign Actress (Bhowani Junction, On the Beach, The Night of the Iguana), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress - Drama (The Night of the Iguana)
Ava Gardner (Seven Days in May, Earthquake)

My Choice: Academy Award/BAFTA Award/SAG Award Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Chicago), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress - Musical/Comedy (Chicago) and Best Supporting Actress (Traffic), SAG Award Winner for Best Ensemble (Traffic, Chicago)
Catherine Zeta-Jones (Rock of Ages, Broken City)
Is she back now? Can we get her back to her husky-voiced, vixen roles, this one with a bit more heart than Velma?


HANNAH JELKES
Who is She: Painter who travels the world with her grandfather, an aging poet. They sell their wares where they can. The soft-spoken spinster winds up forming a bond with Shannon, and their relationship and soul-bearing conversations (one could almost call them confessions) are at the center of the story.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actress (Edward, My Son, From  Here to Eternity, The King and I, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, Separate Tables, The Sundowners), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best British Actress (The End of the Affair, Tea and Sympathy, The Sundowners, The Chalk Garden), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress - Musical/Comedy (The King and I)
Deborah Kerr (The Innocents, Casino Royale)

My Choice: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (The Nanny Diaries), Academy Award Nominee for Best Actress (You Can Count on Me, The Savages) and Best Supporting Actress (Kinsey), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Mystic River), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress - Drama and Musical/Comedy (You Can Count on Me, The Squid and the Whale) and Best Supporting Actress (Kinsey), SAG Award Nominee for Best Actress (You Can Count on Me), Best Supporting Actress (Kinsey) and Best Ensemble (Mystic River)
Laura Linney (The Truman Show, Hyde Park on Hudson)
Another instant in which I can't explain my feelings. But dear Laura Linney is the reason I cast this film. I'm not a huge Kerr fan, and though I do like her in Night of the Iguana, I could not help but think what a stronger actress would do with it. Like Laura Linney.


REV. LAWRENCE SHANNON
Who is He: A defrocked minister who listens to his carnal urges more than anything divine. There is a deep conflict within Shannon (obviously), and over the course of the show, he gets closer to exorcising this through his surprising connection with Hannah Jelkes.

Originally played by: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor (The Robe, Becket, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Anne of the Thousand Days, Equus) and Best Supporting Actor (My Cousin Rachel), BAFTA Award Winner for Best British Actor (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor - Drama (Equus)
Richard Burton (Look Back in Anger, Cleopatra)

My Choice: Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Anna Karenina), Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor (Cold Mountain) and Best Supporting Actor (The Talented Mr. Ripley), BAFTA Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (The Talented Mr. Ripley), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor - Drama (Cold Mountain) and Best Supporting Actor (The Talented Mr. Ripley, AI: Artificial Intelligence), SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (The Aviator)
Jude Law (Contagion, Side Effects)
Oh, Andrew. I put your suggestion for this role on a Stickie and set it aside, trying to see if maybe I could come up with someone different. Not better, mind, just someone on my own. Uninfluenced. But I could not deny perfection. I could not deny JUDE LAW.

I know there are a slew of Night of the Iguana fans out there -- I believe Andrew considers it a shoulda-coulda-woulda winner for Richard Burton. Any ideas of your own?

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
Best Actor - Jude Law
Best Actress - Laura Linney
Best Supporting Actress - AnnaSophia Robb, Dianne Wiest, Catherine Zeta-Jones

4 comments:

MovieNut14 said...

Oh, I approve of this immensely.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

So many things. One, I was thinking the other day that - you know who else would make a good Shannon? The REAL Shannon - Michael. You know he's often playing loopy characters, but I was rewatching Take Shelter (his best) and his best scenes are those quiet ones and he too would do well with Shannon's turmoil.

But my favourite choice here isn't even great Jude, it's CATHERINE! That choice is so perfect and it makes me want to weep so hard because, goddamn when is she going to get back to it and do a fine film role? Why is she wasting her talent? It's so frustrating.

Yeah, Burton should have been nominated and won for this. BEAUTIFUL adaptation.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not a huge Kerr fan, and though I do like her in Night of the Iguana, I could not help but think what a stronger actress would do with it."

I enjoyed reading your comments very much, but must take issue with the above. Deborah Kerr's performance as Hannah is sublime, so beautifully delicate and subtle, and extraordinarily moving. Her lengthy scene with Burton tied to a hammock is superb, and during Nonno's recitation of his poem, she is immensely touching. She should have been nominated for an Oscar, but as she laughingly remarked :'always the bridesmaid, never the bride'. However, in the only national Oscar poll ever conducted in Australia (by the long defunct magazine New Screen News) she was voted Best Actress of 1964 for The Night of the Iguana. It seems we Aussies knew the quality of her work! So - 'a stronger actress'? Perhaps you need to review the amazingly rich cinematic legacy that Deborah has left us.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Anon: It was only a matter of time...

Look, I understand that Deborah Kerr holds a place in the hearts of many a cinephile. When I was introduced to her via THE INNOCENTS, I thought she hold one in mine, as well. But she just doesn't do it for me. I don't think she's a bad actress, she just doesn't do it for me personally. I admit I still have a large chunk of her filmography to see, though, so perhaps she will grow on me with time. After all, I didn't care much for Laura Linney either until a couple of years ago.