Balcony, The (1963): Jean Genet Play on Screen with Shelley Winters as the Madam

UA (Reade-Sterling-Continental production)

The denizens of a sordid brothel become embroiled in a coup in this original political satire adapted from the Jean Genet play by producer-director Joseph Strick.

Too bad that on the big-screen “The Balcony” comes across as pretentious (which the play was not), failing to convey the politics or allegory of Genet’s text.

Multi-Oscar winner (“The Diary of Anne Frank,” “A Patch of Blue”) Shelley Winters stars as the madam, a stern woman who supervises the desires of her employees and their rich customers.

The above include the local police chief (Peter Falk), who prefers to be there than to do his official job. In the course of the colorful tale, the whores and their men dress up like judges, penitents, bishops, and generals, while a revolution bursts out in the streets.

Society’s leaders, including the queen, are executed by the angry mob. In time, the madam and her women are ordered to impersonate the slain bigwigs in order to restore law and order.

Oscar Nomination

It was shot in black-and-white by multiple Oscar-nominated cinematographer George Folsey, who lost out to James Wong Howe, winning for “Hud.”

The impressive secondary ensemble of “The Balcony” includes the young Ruby Dee, Lee Grant to and Leonard Nimoy. (Nimoy would produce and star in “Deathwatch,” also based on Genet’s work, before becoming a TV star).

Though Genet was involved in the film version of “The Balcony,” collaborating with Strick on the original script, he was dissatisfied with the end result. The screenplay, which is too verbose and theatrical, is credited to poet and novelist Ben Maddow.

Strick acquired the rights to “The Balcony” from Genet, who wa simpressed with his knowledge of literature; Strick would also produce a big-screen adaptation of James Joyce’s masterpice, “Ulysses.”

Running time: 87 Minutes.
Directed by Joseph Strick

Released Janury 1, 1963.
DVD: August 1, 2000

Shelley Winters as Madam Irma
Peter Falk as Police Chief
Lee Grant as Car-man
Peter Brocco as Judge
Jeff Corey as Bishop
Ruby Dee as Thief
Joyce Jameson as Penitent
Amette Jens as Horse
Leonard Nimoy as Roger