A dwarf melts the hear of a small back-water's local dramatic ice queen (Redgrave), and for a time a community is brought together in her newly opened café, though bizarre relationships and love interests complicate the warming tableau.
It is quite outrageous to find British actor Simon Callow directing a very strange Carson McCullers novel with Vanessa Redgrave playing a formidably Southern woman, but here it is - and boy, does it work. Phew!
It is, at its barest, the story of three people in a wretched, dusty backwash with no name. Each of them is in love with someone who does not love them. Miss Amelia (Redgrave), a dried-up, irrationally harsh woman, is the only source of drama in the town. When a far-flung relation, a dwarf called Cousin Lymon (Cork Hubbert), arrives, she takes him into her home (the 'sad' café) and into her unloving heart. But Cousin Lymon falls wildly for Marvin Macy, the lone ranger who strides back into town after a stint in the penitentiary. ('I bin to the penitentiary', says Macy buoyantly. 'That trip ain't no travel to brag about' replies an old salt.)
Marvin Macy (Keith Carradine), the gaunt and handsome embodiment of the Outside World, despises the dwarf and loves Amelia. Still loves Amelia for he married her in the local church courtesy of the erratic Reverend Willin (Rod Steiger) some years before, only to be husked dry and cast out.
Intertwined with this story, which is told with few words and even less overt emotion, is the story of a smalltown inhabited by people whose lives are almost worthless, whose souls are sick with summer quinsey and with faces like you've never seen before on screen.
Briefly, after Cousin Lymon appears their existence is coloured, even fragranced by the humanising of Miss Amelia who opens her house-cum-store into a café where they can drink her homemade moonshine and eat the rough fare she produces.
It's an extraordinary loony piece, sinisterly fascinating, tough, uncompromsing, almost Gothic. Although slow to warm up - the first 20 minutes are gruelling - once it's got you in its swing there's no way you cannot become compellingly sucked into the film with its curious scenery, studied theatricality and Phillip Glass-like music (by Richard Robbins). Be warned: it ends in a staggering barefist fight that puts Liam Neeson's efforts in The Big Man into junior amateur league.
An extraordinary loony piece, sinisterly fascinating, tough, uncompromsing, almost Gothic.