Bagdad Cafe was the first American film made by German director Percy Adlon. Casting his German star, the flamboyantly overweight Marianne Sägebrecht to lead an otherwise all-American cast – notably Jack Palance and CCH Pounder – he came up with a truly magical movie.
Jasmin (Sägebrecht) is a middle-class Bavarian tourist, dumped in the Mojave desert by her unpleasant and argumentative husband during a vacation. She finds her way to the dilapidated motel of the title, settles in, and transforms the place and its no-hope inhabitants.
Despite the language barrier, Jasmin rents a cottage at the site and manages to slowly ingratiate herself to the locals. They include the harsh Brenda (CCH Pounder) who runs the cafe, Brenda’s two children, a baby, a short-order cook, a part-time prostitute, various coming and going truckers, the sheriff and Rudi Cox (Palance), a bemused former Hollywood set painter who introduces himself as “formerly of Tinseltown” and convinces Jasmin to pose nude for him, having fallen in love with her Rubenesque curves.
Wearing a salmon-coloured silk shirt, a John Wayne vest and various bargain-basement hats, Rudi is at once both ridiculous and lightly flirtatious towards Jasmin. He’s an enigmatic yet accommodating hombre who hangs around the fringes, painting in his ramshackle room.
Brenda, a self-absorbed, self-tortured and fiercely spiteful, wiry and aggressive woman is superbly assayed by Pounder. Watching after her kids, yelling at them, warily skirting Jasmin, infuriated at her lover Sal (G. Smokey Campbell), Brenda tramps about Bagdad Cafe fanning feelings of disharmony.
But even her hard ways are filed down by the open-faced Jasmin, who is willing to subvert her own pride but never her dignity in dealing with Brenda.
As Jasmin touches each of the lives at the cafe, Adlon puts forth the notion that language barriers, race barriers (Brenda is black, Rudi white, the cook eastern Indian, the sheriff American Indian) and personality barriers can be transcended by trust and faith.
It’s all reinforced by the soundtrack, which is highlighted by a beautiful, bluesy rendition of a song called Calling You by Jevetta Steele.
The film was released in West Germany as Out of Rosenheim.
G. Smokey Campbell
Alan S. Craig
Ronald Lee Jarvis
Gary Lee Davis