What are my choices this evening?
Political junkie that I usually am, I could lock-in on this week’s political convention (red shirts, plastic cowboy hats, interminable plagiarism discussion loops, and conventioneers I suspect have spent a bit more time at the hotel bar than is advisable before strutting before cameras announcing numbers to millions of viewers – whoop!), or I could skip along the cultural high road with director Riccardo Freda’s giallo classic, The Iguana With the Tongue of Fire.
Pass up a title like that? I think not.
I can think of two movies with “iguana” in their titles. What are those odds? The other film is Night of the Iguana based on a story by Tennessee Williams. You may be asking (as I did); “What’s so special about iguanas?” That led me to recall a story by British speculative fiction writer J. G. Ballard. Mr. Ballard is best known for his novel; EMPIRE OF THE SUN, upon which the award-winning film was based. But in his novel; THE DROWNED WORLD, the Earth’s protective ionosphere has been decimated by solar flares and the planet has devolved into a ubiquitous, dank, fetid, swamp. The planet’s cities have decayed. Many buildings now harbor amphibian creatures living in the darkness of the buildings’ long missing windows and doors. For Ballard, these creatures are clearly representative of atavistic impulses and desires that lurk within us all waiting to be triggered and released by drastic changes in the conditions that restrain them. I think that may also true for both of our “iguana” flicks.
There is, of course, a chasm of difference in performance quality between Night of the Iguana (Richard Burton, Ava Gardner, and Deborah Kerr) and The Iguana With the Tongue of Fire (Luigi Pistilli, Dagmar Lassander, and Anton Diffring), but not in one performance.
I have not seen many performances by Valentina Cortese, but I’m impressed by what I’ve seen. Her Oscar-nominated performance in Francois Truffault’s Day for Night is a thing of wonder. In The Iguana With the Tongue of Fire (made two years before), Ms. Cortese has a heart-wrenching scene that transcends the tawdriness of the film.
She says of her husband;
“His Excellency has returned to Switzerland and I am alone…as always. How do you expect me to say it? It’s the truth. Behind this façade you are looking at there is the most terrible…unbelievable…emptiness…between me and my children, between me and my………husband.”
The camera never leaves her face. It would be criminal to do so. Score one for director Freda.
Oh yes, this was a much better choice than those ersatz cowboy hats. Whoop indeed!