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The Ballad of the Sad Cafe - The Merchant Ivory Collection

4.1 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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(Jan 18, 2005)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Three Academy Award® winners—Vanessa Red grave, Keith Carradine, and Rod Steiger—are 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.

Amazon.com

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

Special Features

  • Audio commentary by director Simon Callow

Product Details

  • Actors: Vanessa Redgrave, Keith Carradine, Cork Hubbert, Rod Steiger, Austin Pendleton
  • Directors: Simon Callow
  • Writers: Carson McCullers, Edward Albee, Michael Hirst
  • Producers: Donald Rosenfeld, Ismail Merchant, Paul Bradley
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Special Edition, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    PG-13
    Parental Guidance Suggested
  • Studio: Merchant Ivory
  • DVD Release Date: January 18, 2005
  • Run Time: 101 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0006HBZYW
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #157,404 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe - The Merchant Ivory Collection" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on March 20, 2002
Format: VHS Tape
This 1991 Merchant-Ivory production is based on the novel by Carson McCullers and the play by Edward Albee. It's set in the South during the depression and there's a deep melancholy mood throughout. Vanessa Redgrave is cast as Miss Amelia, a strong and mannish middle aged woman who doctors to the population, makes corn whisky, and even though she runs a small cotton plantation, seems as impoverished as the everyone else. One day, a hunchbacked dwarf, claiming to be a distant cousin, played by Cork Hubbert, comes to town and to everyone's surprise Miss Amelia takes him in. He brings some joy to her life, even has her open a café in her home and she seems to be falling in love with him. But her ex-husband, played by Keith Carradine, who has just been released from prison comes back to town. She was only married to him for a few days, refused to sleep with him and humiliated him so much that he left in shame, but now he's back with hatred in his heart. To complicate matters, her dwarf cousin adores the ex-husband. Eventually there's a showdown in the bloodiest fistfight between Miss Amelia and the ex-husband that I've ever seen on a screen. The ending is sad.
I cannot say enough good things about Vanessa Redgrave's performance. I usually think of her as a sophisticated and attractive British actress. But for this role she takes off her makeup, crops her hair close to her head and lets her clear blue eyes shine from a weather-beaten face, her usual graceful body taking on an awkward gait, and her voice taking on a deep southern drawl. It is an absolutely magnificent performance with equally talented supporting actors. The story is weird but it kept my interest and my eyes were glued to the screen waiting for what would happen next.
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Format: VHS Tape
I first read Carson McCullers's hauntingly sad novella in 1984 and the story stuck with me for many years. Completely unaware that it had ever been filmed, I discovered this film by chance in a video store and was totally stunned by its veracity to the novella as well as the superb performances by Redgrave and Carradine. That such an essentially American (well, Southern, I suppose) story should have been filmed by a British director (and what a debut for the wonderful Simon Callow), and with a British leading lady, is odd. Yet it is compelling viewing, as the lives of these very sad and desperate people unfold before your eyes. The climactic boxing match is possibly one of the most painful things I have ever watched, from any point of view. You saw "Raging Bull"? Forget it! If you love the prose of McCullers you cannot but love this superb visualisation of one of her great works.
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By A Customer on November 11, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
Sad but good. Vanessa Redgrave is effective as a Southern loner living in a backwoods town. When a local man (Carradine) courts her and marries her, she refuses to let him sleep in the same house with her, let alone the same bed. Anyway, after brooding and complaining, You can imagine how embarrassed he'd be, it's a small town and everyone knows....events ensue and he ends up in prison.
Miss Amelia (Redgrave) opens a small cafe at the insistance of her cousin "Lyman" a hunchback . When, Marvin Macy (Carradine) comes back, completely changed after his stint in prison. Very bitter.. ..
And even though her cousin Lymon seems entranced by Marvin, as this now dark and alluring character he's become (And Keith Carradine is excellent at it ;-). Miss Amelia still sees him as an "evil man"
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Format: VHS Tape
I really enjoyed this video! I disagree strongly with the reviewer who said "nothing worked" in it. The acting was superb, and the filming was beautiful and haunting. Many images from the film have stuck with me - watching it was like visiting another world. My only complaint is that I didn't completely understand the ending; it felt a bit unfinished. But it is well-made and a very thought provoking movie. I recommend it to anyone who likes films that are a bit unusual and are driven more by character than by fast action.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This movie gets poor reviews from critics but has great cinematography, symbolism and a quirky plot. Hard movie to find out in the stores - thanks again Amazon. If you enjoy the obscure you will like this movie.
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Format: DVD
A review for "The Ballad of the Sad Café" once opened with the formidable question of who would ever consider casting Vanessa Redgrave as Miss Amelia, a Depression-era love-starved local recluse. As this critic seemed to point out, the only really two options were either Shelley Duvall or Sissy Spacek, two women who have continually redefined that particular role time and time again. For me, Redgrave was phenomenal in a role unfamiliar to her typical typecast. She was strong, leathery rough, and the absolute definition of an independent woman who literally ran this little mill town in the South. An adaptation of a book by Carson McCullers and helmed by famed Brit Simon Callow, this had the makings to be the next "Grapes of Wrath" or Oscar winning human drama. This film was unique, mysterious, bold, delicate, honest, and brutal, with a small element of David Lynch lurking around the corner. The characters seemed to be placed well, Callow's direction was superb in some moments, lacking in others, but with all of this praise behind it - it still suffered as merely an average film. Why? Major parts seemed, or at least felt, like they were dropped on the cutting room floor. Scenarios played out in a logical sense, but the physical connectors seemed to be weak, and unable to support a story of this nature. "The Ballad of the Sad Café" worked hard at its image, but when it came down to crunch-time, it was left standing in its own self-created dust.

One cannot image saying this out loud, but if Vanessa Redgrave's Amelia were to fight John Wayne or even Clint Eastwood, my hard-earned dollars would have to go to Redgrave.
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