The Ballad of the Sad Café

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Callow makes his debut as a director with enormously difficult material: a strange and fantastical novella, written by the young Carson McCullers, about a barren, hayseed Georgia community. The tone is always a grainy Southern realism teetering on the edge of lunacy; and, given that the central characters are a giantess, a dwarf, and a redneck recidivist who makes the town's meat go bad, one can see the problem. Like Sartre's Huis Clos, this is a story of triple-unrequited passion in which fairytale and myth come to the fore, partly because (even as played by the superb Redgrave and Carradine) the main combatants are hardly made of the usual sympathetic stuff that passionate sagas need. Instead, Callow has cleverly created a company style that can encompass everyone from stand-up comedian Hubbert as the perky dwarf, Steiger as the local preacher, and Carradine, the ultimate rangy screen professional, as badman Marvin Macy. But despite traces of the English accent, it's Ms Redgrave who steals the show; the finale in which she and Carradine engage in a bloody fist-fight makes Liam Neeson's bit of bother in The Big Man look like handbags at dawn.

Release details

Duration: 101 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Simon Callow
Screenwriter: Michael Hirst
Cast: Vanessa Redgrave
Keith Carradine
Cork Hubbert
Rod Steiger
Austin Pendleton
Beth Dixon

Average User Rating

5 / 5

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