The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

USA | 1991 | 100 min | Simon Callow

April 19, 2022

In actor/critic Simon Callow’s sole directorial effort, this 1991 Southern Gothic from writers Carson McCullers and Edward Albee stars Oscar®-winners Vanessa Redgrave and Keith Carradine as, respectively, an eccentric moonshine supplier and her ne’er-do-well, convict ex-husband.

Vanessa Redgrave gives a towering, mesmerizing performance as Miss Amelia, the proud, eccentric loner with boyish short hair who rules a small Southern town during the Depression, supplying moonshine and running the country store. When a fast-talking, hunchbacked dwarf named Lymon (Cork Hubbert) arrives claiming to be her cousin, she inexplicably takes him in and soon dotes on him. He talks her into turning the store into a café with music and dancing, and soon both Miss Amelia and the town are coming to life. When her handsome ne’er-do-well once-husband Marvin Macy (Keith Carradine) arrives fresh from jail (she kicked him out of bed before their marriage was consummated), Lymon is captivated, creating a bizarre love triangle. The growing tension climaxes in a bloody bare-knuckles fight between Miss Amelia and Marvin. A 1991 Merchant Ivory production, this grotesque Southern Gothic tale is the only film directed by actor/critic Simon Callow. It has a distinguished literary pedigree, coming from a novella by Carson McCullers (”The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter”) by way of a play by Edward Albee (”Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”). The film is a marvel of melodrama, dark comedy, and pathos, with an unforgettable performance by Redgrave at its heart. Digitally restored.

Ruth Hayler

  • Director: Simon Callow
  • Principal Cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Keith Carradine, Rod Steiger, Cork Huppert, Austin Pendleton
  • Country: USA, UK
  • Year: 1991
  • Running Time: 100 min
  • Producer: Ismail Merchant
  • Screenplay: Michael Hirst
  • Cinematographers: Walter Lassally
  • Editors: Andrew Marcus
  • Music: Richard Robbins
  • Website: Official Film Website
  • Awards: Berlin International Film Festival 1991 (Golden Bear Nominee)
  • Filmography: Debut Feature Film
  • Language: English
  • Format: DCP
  • US Distributor: Cohen Film Collection
  • International Sales: Cohen Media Group