The Ballad of the Sad Cafe
1991, PG-13 Directed by Simon Callow. Starring Vanessa Redgrave, David Carradine, Cork Hubbert, Rod Steiger.
REVIEWED By Kathleen Maher, Fri., June 7, 1991
First time director Callow, creates a very theatrical film from this novella by Carson McCullers and play by Edward Albee, and to a large extent his use of dramatic lighting and vignettes is effective. However, the western set on Willie Nelson's ranch does not pass for the rural south, nor does the caliche and mesquite scrub of the Texas Hill country in any way resemble the dark woods of the south. All this would be a minor quibble if the work itself were involving enough to bring us into its world no matter how mongrelized that world itself might be. Redgrave plays the stiff, androgynous Miss Amelia who rules her little fiefdom in the depression-era south by virtue of being the largest landholder in the area and because she makes excellent corn liquor. Her position is secure until the arrival of the peculiar Cousin Lyman (Hubbert), a dwarf with a craving for human society, but not necessarily a love of humanity. Inexplicably, Miss Amelia falls for the little man and to please him, turns her general store into a cafe. The town briefly blossoms until the return of Marvin Macy, a man Amelia married to the complete astonishment of everyone in the town and a man she humiliated, to the surprise of no one. Steiger plays a preacher who, at one point, attempts to explain the strange behavior of the people around him with a monologue about the tyranny of love lifted directly from the novella. McCullers' lyrical speeches sound odd coming from these characters who have previously revealed no bent towards poetry. What starts off promisingly enough, becomes muddled under the weight of the characters' eccentricities, and bizarre behavior. A little more poetry might have elevated them, but instead they become a freak show. Not a bad film, though it was probably a better play.