Three Academy Award® winnersVanessa Red grave, Keith Carradine, and Rod Steigerare the stars of this extraordinary 1991 film, directed by British actor Simon Callow. The Ballad of the Sad Café, based on the Carson McCullers novella and Edward Albee play, is both a grotesque black comedy and a prime slice of "Southern Gothic," set in a poverty-stricken rural community dominated by the curious, androgynous character of Miss Amelia. A forceful personality with a mysterious past, she runs the town's only café and controls the locals through distribution of her own secretly brewed "hooch." But Miss Amelia's eccentric existence is threatened with the arrival of a hunchbacked dwarf, who claims kinship with her, and reappearance of the husband she rejected on their wedding night.
As Southern Gothic goes, Simon Callow's The Ballad of the Sad Café is about as eerie as a Great Depression-era tragedy can be, rife with subconscious rage, unholy alliances, androgyny, and grotesque spectacle. Based on a Carson McCullers novella but adapted from a stage version written by Edward Albee, Ballad stars Vanessa Redgrave as Miss Amelia, a singular force in her dusty, rural town worthy of a Walker Percy photo spread. Owner of the only general store in sight, medicine woman, and manufacturer of moonshine strong enough to numb the day laborers who collapse on her porch, Miss Amelia controls the pulse of her community. Things change with the arrival of a strange, hunchbacked dwarf (Cork Hubbert) who claims to be her cousin, but who ultimately sides with Amelia's ex-husband (Keith Carradine) in a campaign to make her life a living hell. British character actor Callow's ambition behind the camera proves a little overwrought, but he delivers a powerfully atmospheric, even nightmarish, drama. --Tom Keogh