Shout! Factory // 1987 // 95 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // February 28th, 2013
"Stuck Between A Rock And A Hot Plate."
Like the song says: "A desert road from Vegas to nowhere" leads German tourist Jasmin Münchgstettner (Marianne Sägebrecht) to the Bagdad Cafe, a motel/truck stop and nominal eatery with its coffee maker on the blink and all the comforts of a sand storm in July.
She arrives at the sun-bleached, fly-blown oasis after a long walk, following an unsuccessful picnic in the broiling heat, which ends when her enraged husband (Hans Stadlbauer) speeds off in their car, leaving his wife (dressed in a woolen suit, heels, and a Tiroler hat, no less) with just a suitcase to navigate through a barren patch of Mojave Desert, some one hundred and fifty miles outside of Sin City.
Though bleak (and most likely deserted) to the untrained eye, the cafe, in fact, brims with colorful characters, each one bringing a singular eccentricity to the proceedings. Whether in appearance, manner of style, speech patterns, or what-have-you, everyone here goes into the mix and spices this wacky human Jambalaya.
How you feel about Bagdad Cafe depends a great deal on how whimsical you are. Keep in mind that opening business between the Münchgstettners. Are you prepared to accept that a story which starts with such cruelty (if this were real life -- or a film any less whimsical -- Jasmin would have been found dead of exposure) can lead to a tale of acceptance, community, and a big musical number for a climax?
Some are certain to chafe at the film's almost absolute disregard for plot structure (though there's a passing nod to crisis in the third reel) and the quaint alternate universe Bavarian director Percy Adlon (Rosalie Goes Shopping) creates for his American feature debut, but going in with only the scant information provided by the synopsis on the back of the DVD case, I found myself transforming from open-mouthed wonder to tears of joy by the end of this quick little cinematic joy ride.
Shout! Factory's barest-of-bones presentation features no extras, no subtitles, and traces of grain here and there, but the 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen print is a darned sight better than the rock-bottom list price of this budget release suggests. Getting all the dialog from the 2.0 stereo mix required a bit of jujitsu with the volume controls on my remote, but considering the lack of closed-captioning and my age-battered ears, I've got no complaint to make.
That song I mentioned earlier is "Calling You," written by Bob Telson and sung to a tee by Jevetta Steele. This hauntingly addictive melody earned Bagdad Cafe an Oscar nomination, and once you hear it, you'll understand why. Like the cockeyed-optimistic story it bookends, the song promises a wild ride to a strange landscape, with only superficially familiarities. Take the ride; you only live once.
If loving this film is wrong, I don't want to be right.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Shout! Factory
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated PG