One of the strangest indie hits of the late ’80s, “Bagdad Café” (1988, Shout Factory, PG, $15) is back in print — and worth a second look.
Germany’s Marianne Sagebrecht stars as a woman who splits up with her companion in the middle of the desert and finds herself hoofing it to the nearest motel. At first, Sagebrecht clashes with the angry, stressed-out owner (C.C.H. Pounder) but it’s only a matter of time before the two women are best pals.
Among the oddballs who populate the Bagdad Café is Tony (the scene-stealing Jack Palance), a former set designer for the movies who’s smitten with Sagebrecht. Palance, who hailed from Lattimer Mines, Hazle Township, made a career out of playing tough guys. See “Panic In The Streets” and “Sudden Fear.”
The easy-going, bandana-wearing Tony is a real departure for him. In fact, the more Palance dials back the intensity, the more charming Tony becomes. The actor, who was born Volodymyr Jack Palahniuk, even speaks some of his native Ukrainian as he’s trying to woo Sagebrecht.
Three years away from his Oscar-winning turn as the leathery trail boss in “City Slickers,” Palance saw his film career revitalized by “Bagdad Café.” He’d follow it up with roles in “Young Guns,” “Tango & Cash” and Tim Burton’s “Batman.”
Sagebrecht and Palance might be the best reasons to check out “Bagdad Café,” but if you can make it past the film’s choppy beginning, you’ll discover a comedy that has warmth, humor, emotion and characters that will stay with you long after the credits roll.