The original Broadway production of "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe" by Edward Albee opened at the Martin Beck Theater in New York on 30th October 1963 and ran for 123 performances until the play closed on 15th February 1964.
This motion picture is set in the 1930s and can be genre classified as being a depression-era drama.
Debut theatrical feature film directed by actor Simon Callow. The picture remains the first, final and only ever cinema movie directed by Callow.
Actress Colleen Dewhurst, who had portrayed the character of Miss Amelia Evans in the original 1963-64 Broadway stage production, passed away in the same 1991 year that this movie version was first released. The Miss Amelia character is played in this filmed version by actress Vanessa Redgrave.
The movie's source 1963-64 Broadway stage production was nominated for six Tony Awards including Best Play, Best Scenic Design, Best Director (Dramatic), Best Producer(s) (Dramatic), Best Actress in a Play (Colleen Dewhurst and Best Featured Actor in a Play (Michael Dunn but the production failed to take home a gong in any category.
The basis for the screenplay for this filmed production of "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe" was two-fold and was based on both a source 1962 stage play by Edward Albee which in turn had been based on an original 1951 source book novel by Carson McCullers.
Edward Albee's 1962 stage play of "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe" was a theatrical stage adaptation of the 1951 novella of the same name by Carson McCullers and was first performed around eleven years after the source published story.
This Merchant Ivory Productions feature film was a production produced by Ismail Merchant but without regular collaborators of partner & director James Ivory and novelist & screen-writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.
The official Merchant Ivory Productions website says of this film that producer Ismail Merchant's "...inspiration for it came to him as early as 1972 when his friend Anthony Korner gave him a copy of the book to read. Merchant was impressed by it, but after inquiring into the rights, learned that they had been given by the [author Carson] McCullers estate to Edward Albee, who had adapted the story as a Broadway play in 1962. He also discovered that the play and the rights to the story had merged. Years passed while Albee waited for an interest in the property from a Hollywood studio; but none materialized, and in 1988 Merchant acquired an option. By then he had already discussed the project with Vanessa Redgrave, who admired the work and was interested in taking on the challenging role of Miss Amelia. Financing for the $3.5 million project proved extraordinarily difficult to obtain, but was finally underwritten, in part, by England's Channel Four television, Curzon Films, and Joseph Saleh's Angelika Films...".
Director Simon Callow found the film's source play of the same name by Edward Albee "too talkative". Callow cut the character of the narrator and edited out superfluous dialogue from the stage play.
Vanessa Redgrave has said of this film: "George Burns [Robert A. Burns], who lectured in the English department at Austin University [in Austin, Texas], coached me for the Southern dialect and accent of Miss Amelia. Not only that, he knew how to wiggle and flap his ears, and he made an electrical device that, placed behind Cork Hubbert's ears, produced a wiggle for the camera that convinced all spectators that Cousin Lymon could flap his ears".
Source playwright Edward Albee said to Merchant Ivory Productions of this proposed filmed adaptation and its screenplay prior to its production: "For the film to succeed to [novelist Carson] McCullers' intentions it must bring a mythic quality to the relationship. It is not the story of a shy, sexually repressed, mannish woman set on by a brutish punk. It is the story of two people who however unclearly to themselves they may comprehend it, are engaged in a bizarre 'grand passion' - the one real chance in their lives for something very special - the one opportunity for them both to fully realize themselves. It is this quality, this awareness which reaches toward the mythic, and makes what happens when Marvin Macy comes back so poignant, so inevitable, and the stuff of true tragedy. It is this which is missing from the screenplay. As it is now, a punk gets rejected and comes back and does his dirty work. That is not what McCullers intended, is not what I intended, and is not what the screenplay should be offering us".
One of a number of collaborations of director Simon Callow with Merchant Ivory Productions (MIP) where Callow in all the other productions has worked as an actor except for The Ballad of the Sad Cafe (1991). Callow's MIP films as an actor include Maurice (1987), Howards End (1992), Mr. & Mrs. Bridge (1990), A Room with a View (1985) and Jefferson in Paris (1995) and as himself in In Ismail's Custody (1994).
The film was made and released about forty years after its source novella of the same name by Carson McCullers had been first published in 1951.
The film was made and released about twenty-nine years after its source stage play of the same name by Edward Albee had been first performed in 1962.
The film was entered to screen in competition at the 41st Berlin International Film Festival in 1991 where the picture had its World Premiere.
The film's source 1962 stage play of the same name by Edward Albee describes its setting in the book of the play as: "Somewhere in the south. The Past and Present."