Wherein AVA GARDNER: A LIFE IN MOVIES co-author Anthony Uzarowski discusses the legendary actress
Ava Gardner. I heard that name many times as a child. My mother used to tell me that Ava was my grandfather’s favourite movie star, and as I never got the chance to meet my grandfather, seeing her on screen somehow made me feel closer to him. The first film I ever saw Ava in was THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (’54). This was a grand introduction; if the film lacks certain vitality, the image of its leading lady is certainly unforgettable. Whether dancing the flamenco in a Gypsy camp, floating seamlessly through a casino wearing a breath-taking Fontana gown, or sunbathing on a millionaire’s yacht; Maria Vargas is, in the words of François Truffaut, ‘one of the most beautiful portraits of woman ever filmed, in the person of Ava Gardner, Hollywood’s most exquisitely beautiful actress’.
But the movie that really solidified my love of Ava was the 1964 adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA. It was one of those films that was often shown late at night on TCM, and as a teenager who had a pretty hard time at school, I found solace in those late night viewings. In fact this is the best way to watch THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA- at night. There is a certain breed of films which are best enjoyed long after everyone else has gone to bed, when you feel it’s just you and the film, the rest of the world is asleep.
THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA is special for many reasons. It blends the lyrical poetry of Williams with the tough, no-nonsense direction of John Huston. As a result, the film avoids sentimentality or pretentiousness, despite dealing with some pretty big questions. The promotional slogan for the film declared that ‘since man has known woman, there has never been such a night- the night of the iguana’. In this case, the man is Richard Burton, as the defrocked minister T. Lawrence Shannon, who encounters a string of very different women, all of whom alter his life during one hot night on the Mexican coast. The cast is superb; as the film’s pace relies heavily on dialogue rather than on more conventional action, Huston really went all out in assembling a troupe of actors that is nothing short of perfect.
Ava Gardner, known the world-over for her glamour and staggering beauty, but never given much credit as an actress, finally triumphs. Not only is she able to hold her own alongside Burton, Deborah Kerr and Grayson Hall, but, as Life magazine put it at the time of the film’s release, ‘she all but runs away with the picture’. Her Maxine Faulk, the earthy hotelier, is a woman of multidimensional character, each façade delicately crafted and expertly handled by Gardner, who manages to be at once tough and vulnerable, pragmatic and romantic, fierce and heartbreakingly forbearing.
I could say, if you only watch one of Ava’s movies highlighted by TCM, watch THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, but in fact I do believe that you should watch all of them. Of course, you may say, the fact that I have just co-written a book about her makes me biased. Perhaps so. But Gardner really is magical on screen, at her best you don’t see much else, nor do you want to. In her best films, and TCM has chosen a pretty solid selection, she is a great actress, as well as a knockout. I think it’s high time that we break this news, in 2017- it is entirely possible to be beautiful and have talent! Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you Ava Gardner.
Tune in tonight for a whole night of movies staring Ava Gardner starting at 8pm ET and buy AVA GARDNER: A LIFE IN MOVIES here: http://myt.cm/AvaBook