By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Flawed clergyman loves women.
Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton) loses his job as a clergyman when rumors surface of indiscretions he had with a young female parishioner, which pushes him to preach a ranting sermon at the pulpit that eventually drives all the members of the congregation out of the building. He then gets a job as a tour guide in Mexico and has the chore of leading a bus load of middle-aged women around the country. Charlotte (Sue Lyon) is a young nymph who takes a liking to Lawrence much to the chagrin of her over-protective chaperon Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall). When Charlotte is caught in Lawrence’s bedroom late at night Ms. Fellowes promises that she will have it reported and get him fired. Unable to handle a another potential job loss Lawrence takes the bus load of women to an isolated seaside hotel run by Maxine (Ava Gardner) an old friend of his. He hopes that by somehow trapping them there he will be able to convince Ms. Fellowes to drop the charges, but along the way he meets Hannah (Deborah Kerr) who he starts to fall in-love with.
Unlike most of Tennesse William’s other plays this one, at least the first half, is full of energy and comical nuance. I found the group of ladies and Lawrence’s exasperated dealings with them to be quite amusing and the film moves along at an engaging pace. The second half though bogs down with more of William’s signature brooding drama that ends up hurting the flow. In many ways this film seems like two movies in one and the difference in tone and pace never gels. Despite a good nighttime conversation between Kerr and Burton I kept hoping the ladies and Ms. Fellowes would come back and felt the film was weaker without them.
Legendary director John Huston hits most of the right buttons here although it is not his best work. I was surprised and impressed to learn that Maxine’s hotel was built specifically for the production in an otherwise deserted region of the country. The building had an authentic old look and helped give the film added style and personality. I had mixed feelings with the black and white photography. On one had it helps bring out the dark recesses of its flawed characters and accentuate the moodiness of William’s script, but it also takes away from the exotic beauty of the locale.
Burton is good as usual and playing the part of an emotionally fractured, alcoholic character seems right up his alley. Gardner is great as the brassy Maxine and the scene of her making out with her two young, shirtless, maraca playing male assistants along the beach late at night is genuinely steamy. Kerr is in fine form as well and her more restrained demeanor makes a nice contrast to Gardner’s.
Lyon’s acting isn’t quite up to her costars and she seems particularly out of her league during her scene with Burton, but in the looks department she is unmatched. She is more filled-out and mature than in Lolita and in many ways even hotter. The scene of close-up shots of her moving her hips to a tune at a Mexican bar may excite some of the male viewers.
The under-rated Hall is excellent in her role as the heavy. Her craggy face and personality are perfect for the part and it rightly got her a supporting actress nomination.
In the final analysis this is not a bad version of Tennessee William’s material, but not a great one either.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: August 6, 1964
Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes
Director: John Huston
Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video
Compelling drama. Kerr and Gardner are excellent.
On location shooting with a talented cast make this a better film adaptation of William’s than Richard Brook’s watered down and overblown versions of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Sweet Bird of Youth (1962) to say nothing of the dreadful Boom (1968).
Not on a par with the 2 best adaptation’s of William’s work: Streetcar and Baby Doll both directed by Kazan, but Huston’s film is far ahead of most with a dream cast.