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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Vanessa Redgrave Films
Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool
Annette Bening soars in the last days of starlet Gloria Grahame

Kimberley Jones, Feb. 2, 2018

Foxcatcher
The performances by Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo anchor this drama, which nearly sinks from its weightiness.

Steve Davis, Dec. 19, 2014

More by Kathleen Maher
Incident at Oglala
British filmmaker Apted makes a carefully reasoned, yet passionate statement about the legal system that has ensnared American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier.

July 10, 1992

Titicut Follies
Wiseman filmed conditions in the Bridgeport Mental Hospital with a bare minimum of crew and equipment, which resulted in a devastatingly candid view of life behind the high walls of a state mental hospital for the criminally insane.

July 10, 1992

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Simon Callow, Vanessa Redgrave, David Carradine, Cork Hubbert, Rod Steiger

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle