Sleazy, sexually provocative south of the border tale of a disgraced priest who brings his old lady tour group to his dive of choice, a seedy hotel on the beach of Puerto Vallarta. Richard Burton plays the priest with a serious amount of drunken pathos, portraying a man who is enslaved by the very desires he preaches against, and knows it. He cannot resist the temptations of willing, naiive young girls, and it has ruined his life’s work, and has destroyed his desire to maintain anything more than a steady job to occupy his time. Most of the other occupants of the hotel are ladies, and they represent different aspects of femininity to Burton’s priest. Ava Gardner is the proprietor, a strong, voluptuous woman who identifies with Burton’s seedier tendencies and laughs at his attempts to straighten himself out. Deborah Kerr is a passerby who is unique in her lifestyle, and also in her kindness and acceptance towards Burton. But my favorite cast member of the film is Grayson Hall, who plays a member of Burton’s tour in custody of a young, nubile blonde desperate for Burton’s, ahem, guidance. From the start, she viciously scrutinizes Burton’s demeanor until his weaknesses are clear to everyone in the film. Her strength, and her immediate unwillingness to submit to Burton’s deceptively nurturing grasp, make her an endearing figure, and a tragic one when the seedier characters of the film pigeonhole her as a pent-up “dike.”
The film wears its sexual overtones on its sleeve, from the intimate, playfully sexual staging to the lush, tropical (and hot) environment, and it overwhelms the film. Much like A Streetcar Named Desire (but not quite as badly as that), the script treats its characters as place holds for sexual representation and not as real people; their life is invested in them by the actors playing them, not the lines written. The most consistently human element in the film is the tangible sexual tensions permeating throughout, and, while it is enough to keep the film sensational and entertaining, it is not enough to warrant further viewings. Burton’s conflicted priest is a terrific character, and a perfect role for the real-life drunk, but we are not allowed to connect with him on a deep enough level for true empathy, only sympathy. Once the story dials down and the audience is left with the aftermath of the events that transpire, there is a sort of hang-over feeling where we don’t really remember what happenned, but don’t really care either. But maybe that was the point.
Slightly Recommended for fans of dirty Tennessee Williams adaptations and Richard Burton. This is better than Williams’ Streetcar, but not even close to Burton’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.