The Balcony (1963)

Article 3567 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-28-2011
Posting Date: 5-21-2011
Directed by Joseph Strick
Featuring Shelley Winters, Peter Falk, Lee Grant
Country: USA
What it is: Strange drama/comedy

During a violent revolution, a brothel that caters to men wishing to role-play their erotic fantasies remains open. When the chief of police shows up as the only surviving authority figure of the revolution, he hatches a plot to restore order by using the costumes and acting skills of the residents and customers of the brothel…

This movie was listed as a fantasy by “The Motion Picture Guide”, hence its inclusion in this series. I’ve noticed that on occasion the book will classify as a fantasy a movie that deals with fantasy and illusion, even if the movie doesn’t strictly fall into the genre, and such is the case here. The movie was based on a play by Jean Genet, and I’m really not surprised that there are political subtexts here; what does surprise me is that the movie was made in the USA, which is perhaps one of the last countries where I’d expect this story to make it to film, though reportedly much of the language from the original play was cleaned up. I’m tempted to call this a “reality vs illusion” movie, but truth to tell, I think the movie is actually saying that there is no reality at all; the people essentially are acting out the roles of their costumes, even to the point that they sometimes believe they actually are in the roles they pretend to be in. Despite the serious subject matter, I found quite a bit of humor in the proceedings, especially during a pompous and ridiculous speech made by Peter Falk’s Chief of Police. The movie also features Leonard Nimoy as a rebel leader who fantasizes about being the Chief of Police, and Jeff Corey, a gasman who wants to be a bishop. I ended up enjoying this movie much more than I thought I would, but I’d suggest anyone trying it to remain patient during the first thirty minutes or so; the plot doesn’t really start moving until Peter Falk shows up. Still, genre-wise, it really doesn’t qualify.


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