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The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (1991)

 -  Comedy | Drama | Mystery  -  June 1991 (USA)
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A tangled triangle. In the rural South of the early 20th century, Miss Amelia is the town eccentric, selling corn liquor and dispensing medicine. She takes in her half-sister's son, a ... See full summary »



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Title: The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (1991)

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Miss Amelia
Marvin Macy
Cork Hubbert ...
Cousin Lymon
Lawyer Taylor
Lanny Flaherty ...
Merlie Ryan
Mert Hatfield ...
Stumpy McPhail
Henry Macy
Anne Pitoniak ...
Mrs. McPhail
Frederick Johnson ...
Lauri Raymond ...
Sadie Ricketts
Henry Ford Crimp (as Joe Stephens)
Keith Wommack ...
Tom Rainey
Kevin Wommack ...
George Rainey


A tangled triangle. In the rural South of the early 20th century, Miss Amelia is the town eccentric, selling corn liquor and dispensing medicine. She takes in her half-sister's son, a diminutive crook-back named Lymon. He suggests they open a café in the downstairs of her large house. Marvin Macy gets out of prison and returns to town; turns out he was married to Amelia but it wasn't consummated. He pleaded, then got angry. Is he back for revenge? Eventually, Amelia and Marvin stage a no-holds-barred fight in the café. Lymon's complicated response to Marvin and to Cousin Amelia figures in the resolution. Written by <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Comedy | Drama | Mystery

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated PG-13 for a scene of violence | See all certifications »





Release Date:

June 1991 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

A Balada das Paixões  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$184,890 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The original Broadway production of "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe" by Edward Albee opened at the Martin Beck Theater in New York on October 30, 1963, ran for 123 performances, won the 1964 Tony Award for the Best Play and was the basis for the screenplay for this filmed production. See more »


Several times earlier in the film, we are shown how the only way to arrive at Miss Amelia's secret still is by wading - neck-deep - through a muddy swamp. Yet late in the film when Marvin Macy and Cousin Lymon are shown at Miss Amelia's still, their clothes are clean and dry. See more »


Mary Hale: Marvin changed himself. That time he loved Miss Amelia. Well, it seemed like he changed completely -- he was -- he was good to me, and to Henry... You remember that, doncha'?
Rev. Willin: I remember that.
Mary Hale: Why'd she throw him out? Why'd she marry him and then throw him out? Why?
Rev. Willin: I don't know. All I know is... that it takes two people to be in love. It takes the... lover... and the beloved. But these two, they come from... diff'rent countries. And sometimes, the... the belove is the cause for all the, all the...
See more »


Featured in From the Journals of Jean Seberg (1995) See more »

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User Reviews

Redgrave: From Huncback To Giantess
28 April 2009 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Confirms Vannessa Redgraves status are one of the great actresses, a suspicion I first had watching "The Devils"(which if you haven't seen, you need to see, asap.).

Miss Amelia is the wealthiest women in a small southern town, she is tall, muscular, lean, and not at all ladylike. She serves as the towns doctor, as well as its chief landlord, and money lender. She brews the towns only supply of alcohol, in a distillery accessible only by a swim through the swamp. She is the town eccentric, but also the pillar of the community, everyone owes her something and without her nothing gets done. She lives a solemn and lonely life(writing stories, keeping up with her business), and is otherwise content, until a dwarf with a hunchback shows up, claiming to be her cousin.

The photograph he shows her of his mother, half sister of her mother, is too blurry to be unidentifiable, but she accepts him just the same. Cousin Lymon can do magic, tell jokes, and plays the harmonica. He encourages her to turn her general store into a café, where people can drink inside(not just on the porch), where the piano can be played, and company can be had. The café, brings a life to the dismal town, where once there was none.

The town is shocked by the sudden turnaround in their own lives and Amelias who goes from wearing her usual blue jeans suspenders to dresses(something they cant remember since she was a girl). Amelia dotes on Lymon, buys a car to drive him into the city, and all is well, until Amelia's husband, Marvin Macy returns from prison.

Marvin Macy, was in love with Amelia years ago, and thought his proposal to her would turn his sordid life around. She agreed to the marriage amicably enough, until the wedding night. Then she threw him down the stairs and insisted he sleep in the barn. Macy then turned over all his property to her to woo, her, but alas, to the barn he was sent. Til he eventually abandoned the town altogether, after one emasculating episode too many.

When he returns, cousin Lymon is immediately smitten with him, he cant wait to talk to someone whose been on a "chain gang, to Atlanta, and in a real prison." Lymon is something of a child, and Macy is a "man". There's a good deal of ambiguity in the sexuality of both Lymon and Amelia, though.

Macy abuses Lymon, more and more who follows him like a puppy, while Amelia withers watching and waiting for Lymon, to give up his infatuation, so it can be just the two of them again. A love without the sex(presumably, and implicitly), a companionship which she can accept and return.

The towns reverend tells Macy's sister in law, "All I know is... that it takes two people to be in love. It takes the... lover... and the beloved. But these two, they come from... diff'rent countries. And sometimes, the... the beloved is the cause for all the, all the stored-up love that's lain in the heart of the lover for such... a long time, and every lover knows that... deep... deep in his soul, he knows that his love is a lonely and solitary thing. That's why I guess most of us, we'd rather be... the lover than to be loved, I mean, because the state of being'... beloved is... is intolerable. See an' then, after a while... the beloved gets to hate the lover, because the lover's always trying to strip, strip, strip bare... the beloved. See, that's because the... the lover... 'e craves that love -- even though he knows that that love can only cause 'im pain.", in the film, and the novella it was based on's defining scene.

The film climaxes in a fist fight, in the café between Amelia and Macy(thats right a no holds bared, knock down drag out fist fight, which again confirms Redgraves greatness). Literally duking it out for Cousin Lymon who watches gleefully from the sidelines.

Like "Wise Blood" its a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the southern classic of love and the grotesque. Carson Mcullers novella, of which this was based on is one of my favorite books. Actor Simon Callow does a good job directing the material, there's some particularly beautiful moments which bookend the film, featuring men on a chain gang. The cinematography on the whole is accomplished, and the rustic music, fitting the mood excellently. There is one awkward moment at the end of the fight, see it and you will know what I mean.

Its a funny, unique, and sad film, film that captures the "blindess" of love, better than any other. On a personal level Mcullers had a horrific marriage, both her and her husband having numerous failed homosexual relationships(and him eventually asking her to commit suicide with him, and her leaving, as he finally went through with it). Its easy to see this as a personal story as much as a universal one, of the right love, in the wrong person. Or culturally as a story of a powerful independent women, compromised by her own emotions, and brought down by the cruelty of the men around her. Though Amelia is as cruel to Macy, as he later is to her, so maybe what goes around comes around too. There's many ways to look at it and they're all true on some level. So basically the book is great and the movie is pretty good. See em both if you can.

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