Winter Project: Richard Burton

During the winter months of January and February, I like to assign myself a male actor whose filmography I know little about. In the past, that has been Paul Newman, William Holden, Steve McQueen, and Gene Hackman. I’ll read a biography and try to understand the man within the context of his time. This year’s choice is another heavy hitter. One at the top of his game when I was a little girl, so I hardly remember the roles. I’d like to revisit his best films with fresh, older eyes. It’s time to fill in my blind spots and enjoy what made him famous in the first place. Welcome, Richard Burton.

I have seen Richard Burton on stage. In 1980 he was playing in a reprisal of Camelot in Chicago. I was president of our high school thespian troupe, and I will brag I organized the field trip to see him. I knew we were watching a world-renowned celebrity with that melodious voice even if he just stood there and didn’t do much but sing/talk his songs. I wish I could have seen him in the 1960s.

Which movie would you recommend I watch first?

Film Spotlight: The Night of the Iguana

Who do you rank higher? Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams as the best American playwright of the 20th century? I think Tennessee is more influential because several of his stage classics became film classics and provided the meaty roles that propelled the careers of stars I hold in the highest regard.

Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Vivien Leigh, Richard Burton, and Elizabeth Taylor all benefited from the plays of Tennessee Williams.


I watched the 1964 John Huston classic, The Night of the Iguana, followed by a documentary on the making of the film. There’s plenty to like about this dark comedy. It’s a provocative story about morality and lust and redemption and the relationships between men and women. 


The Rev. Dr. T. Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton) falls from disgrace from his pulpit and ends up as a tour guide, escorting women on his bus to Mexico.


Temptation comes in the curvaceous form of young Charlotte Goodall, (Sue Lyons), a “Lolita” (Sue Lyons was the sexy seducer in Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film version of the fantastic book and screenplay by Vladimir Nabokov.) bent on seducing Shannon. The god-fearing women on the bus point recriminating fingers at Shannon, especially the possessive guardian, Miss Judith Fellowes, played to perfection by Grayson Hall. Remember her in the T.V. show, Dark Shadows?

Deborah Kerr’s character was Hannah Jelkes, an artist and philosopher who counseled Shannon during the long night. Ava Gardner’s character, Maxine Faulk, was the hotel keeper where Shannon brought his group of visitors. She was practical, smart and fell in love with Shannon.  I liked the bit part of Hannah Jelkes’s  grandfather who created a poem, stanza at a time that mirrored the plot of the story.


Director John Huston built the entire set at Puerto Vallarta making the Mexican harbor a popular vacation destination thereafter. Engaged to Burton then, Elizabeth Taylor stayed as a guest on the set and offered moral support. Which woman did Elizabeth Taylor need to worry about? Kerr, Lyons, or Gardner?


Check out the trailer:

The acting and gorgeous setting make this dark comedy worth watching. There’s enough layers of witty intellect and sultry fun, 1960s style, for anyone. I highly recommend it.

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