Sunday, November 11, 2012

Video Cheese: BUTTERFLY (1981)

  NOTE: This is edited from a piece originally posted over at and contains a couple of editorial notes from that site's master, Mr. Ken Begg. Those seeking a more in depth examination of the film should check out his review. This version is reprinted here with permission......

 “An immoral young woman tries to seduce her father during the Depression.”

   Look at this cast! Stacy Keach! Orson Welles! Lois Nettleton! Edward Albert! James Fanciscus! Stuart Whitman! June Lockhart! Ed McMahon! Paul Hampton! George ‘Buck’ Flower! And “introducing” Pia Zadora (who had already been introduced to audiences as Girmar in the Christmas classic Santa Claus Conquers The Martians, but I guess we’re talking the adult Zadora here)! Music by the great Ennio Morricone! 

   Too bad that gargantuan amount of talent is wasted in this sick little drama about…. Actually, I have no idea what the message of the picture was supposed to be.

   The box for this video talks up how Zadora has been compared by critics to Bardot after the release of this film. So let me take a sec and discuss “BB” in terms of her cultural importance. BB was the french equivalent of a glamor girl in the early 1950s. Although little of her film work was seen on this side of the ocean, pictures of her were endlessly printed in various film and cheesecake magazines. The youthful French spark-plug conveyed an earthy, almost animal-like sexuality balanced against her cheerfully sweet and innocent smile. In a way, she was a European Betty Page.

   Her manager, who I think was also her husband [Editor Ken: Yes, serial wife-exploiter Roger Vadim, the French John Derek], boiled down the elements that made Bardot attractive and souped them up. He piled her hair into an up-do to make her head seem larger, and used make up to make her eyes look larger. This, in addition to her petite frame, but long slender limbs, resulted in a youthful, almost child-like look. Since men instinctively are drawn to younger women, the logic behind this aesthetic makes perfect sense (and I can attest, is largely the same logic behind drawing ‘pretty girls’ for the cartoonist).

   Then Bardot’s formerly cheery personality was altered to fit more the European notion of a ‘sex goddess.’ She was instructed in how to move and look, the advice evidently being “act board and listless, and be sure you never ‘ave an expression on your face, like a doll. Men will like zat. Ooh la la!”
So “BB,” as she was re-dubbed, became a living sex doll. Her emotionless expressions and distant laziness (though I’m sure the idea was to make her more cat-like) became her trade-marks. After riding this wave as far as it would go, to about the early/mid 60′s, BB once again became Brigitte Bardot and decided to become a ‘serious’ actress.

   That move killed what career she had left in the States, but did lead to great success in European film. This brings us back to Pia Zadora. Although 27 when Butterfly was filmed, she plays the part of a 16 year old. While not always convincing in this regard, her round cheeks and petite build manage to pull off the idea that she’s playing a younger woman.
Like Bardot, Zadora here has her hair full of body and cascading down over the top of her eyes, her full, adolescent face, and her near catatonic expressionlessness ably suggest the BB version of Bardot. Then again, BB at least had a raw charisma that even her blank face couldn’t erase. That Zadora’s agents or whoever attempted to build her up to be a new sex goddess based almost entirely on this film is laughable.

  I’m not enough of a scholar on Pia Zadora to go into her life and career, but I can see why she never made more than a handful of films. To be fair, I don’t know how much of this particular mess is her fault or the fault of her handlers trying to turn her into a clone of Bardot, but the results are what they are.

   Troubling the film from the start is the subject matter, given we’re watching a major Hollywood production about potential incest.* They try to cover themselves by making this a pretty lavish period piece populated by some impressive stars, but you really can’t expect much. A flick like this isn’t going to find much traction outside of art-house theaters. And I’d wager the artsy crowd rejected it too, since in Butterfly you can actually follow whats going on.

[*Editor Ken: Butterfly was a husband-funded vanity project more than a "major Hollywood production," although it's a fairly opulent example of the breed.]

   The Arizona-Nevada border during the Depression.

   Jess Tyler guards a disused silver mine from his modest (but quite large, given the period) shack. One day, his estranged daughter Kady shows up. Kady has been raised by a prostitute and had a child out of wedlock. She’s firmly sold herself on the philosophy that “what feels good is right.”

   Jess, meanwhile, believes that there is a way things are done and there are things that are wrong. (I have severe doubts that the writers were smart enough to be making a political statement about how liberal ideas will conquer the old guard, but the theme is certainly there). The only real man to ever enter the life of a girl who has always gotten her way by sexing men, Kady has an instant attraction to Jess. Having lived alone for so long, Jess finds himself being turned on too, although for his part refuses to ignore the fact that she’s his daughter.

   Jess drags Kady to church, only for her to be frightened out of her wits when the preacher singles her out before discussing the prodigal son. Given the kind of movie this is and when it was made, I got the feeling they were going to go off into a subplot where the preacher makes sexual advances on Kady. Thankfully, we are spared any such tangent. (Though it does seem odd to hire Stuart Whitman for the part of the preacher and be done with him after a single scene.)

   Kady sets about plans to get the remaining silver from the mine. Jess tries to talk her out of it. Then, apparently figuring this would be a fun father-daughter project, Jess decides they could take out the bits usually left behind by the miners. The mine’s owner would never miss them.

   So they mine the place and make a little money, but Buck Flower is watching them the whole time and reporting back to his boss (more on him in a moment).

    Kady’s rather less slutty sister drops by with the baby. Although aloof at first, Jess takes a liking to his grandson. Here they establish the meaning of the title, as the kid has a butterfly-shaped birthmark on his tummy. (Ever notice how in movies, birthmarks are bright red?*)

   (Jabootu reader GalaxyJane notes:  Just FYI, there are some common birthmarks that are bright red.  Hemangiomas are bright-red superficial vascular tumors that tend to self-resolve within the first few years of life.  Port Wine stains are also vascular, a purply-red and do not resolve. Salmon patches are light pink, rather than true red.  Admittedly there are lots of other sorts of birthmarks of different colors, the different melanocytic ones are either brown or black, so I don't know why hollywood would only focus on those.  I guess red looks dramatic -or is just easier to see- on screen.)

   The father of Kady’s child is Wash Gillespie, son of the mine’s owner. Wash was forbidden to marry below his station, which is the event which sent Kady looking for her Pa. Wash has talked his parents into the union, however, and drives out to see Kady and Jess. He respectfully asks for Kady’s hand and Jess, though hesitant at first, gives his blessing.

   Before much can happen on that front, however,  Moke (the man who stole Jess’s wife away from him and sent her into a life of prostitution) shows up to make trouble. Moke has brought Jess’ ex around to visit with the family, as she’s knocking on death’s door.

   During the evening, the ailing woman attempts to kill Moke with her hat pin before falling dead. At the funeral, Jess sees Moke's henchman Buck in attendance and gets the notion something is wrong at the mine. He rushes in with a shotgun to find Moke hard at work to remove some silver of his own (he had earlier let on that he was aware Jess had been working the mine).

   Seeing the butterfly-shaped birthmark on Moke’s belly, Jess assumes the man slept with Kady and is the real father of her child, and plants a round in the man’s midsection. (Jess earlier told Kady they couldn’t blast the silver out because the sound of the explosion would echo across the mine and the county and alert the townsfolk to what they’re doing. A shot like this doesn’t bring any reaction, however. Even more amazingly, after firing off a shotgun in a mine tunnel, both men can still hear each other speak!)

   For what its worth, turn back now lest ye learn the ending of the movie. For those who don’t plan on watching Butterfly (and why should you wish too?), I already have, so I’ll finish my report.

   Down for the count, but a fighter, Moke hangs on long enough to let Jess know he didn’t father Kady’s child. He fathered Kady. Jess drags Moke deeper into the mine and leaves him for dead. (There will be no mention later of any sort of bad smell coming from the mine.)

   Jess tells Wash (and his folks) that Moke is the father of Kady’s baby. In this light, Wash has no obligation (although for his part, Wash still wants to marry Kady). Jess then he heads home, knowing he has an eager young lass just begging for him to have her. And since she isn’t his daughter now its perfectly okay to jump her


   Frankly, I’d think there’d be a bit of hesitation to get involved with a girl you knew as your offspring just the day before. I guess we’re supposed to believe that Kady is so irresistible that Jess needs only this slender justification to give into his unholy lusts. Either way, its creepy in the extreme.

   And even if he isn’t her father, she’s still the spawn of the woman he knew as his wife. Isn’t the whole idea of bedding her still really weird? I mean, reeeeeaaaaaaalllllllllyyyyyyyy weird? 

   Let’s just get this over with. They do the deed in the mine (where Jess killed Moke? This guy has some serious problems!), but Buck spies on them. Bum bum bummmmmm!

   Due to Buck’s report, Jess and Kady are hauled into court to answer to the crime of incest. Jess claims he forced Kady into it, understanding Kady will be set free if the court finds it was all Jess’ idea. His gambit doesn’t work, however, as Kady refutes his position. In a real skin-crawler, Kady still thinks Jess is her father, but she’s not ashamed of what they’ve done because it felt good. Excuse me a moment, I need a hot shower with lots of soap……..

   Dum de dum, I’m back now. Where was I? Oh, yes, this movie was repulsing me. 

   Buck reveals himself to be Moke’s brother, and this gives Jess another out. He states that Moke is Kady’s father. Buck’s birthmark matches the one on the baby (all male members of the family carry the mark) and the case is dismissed. 

   Still, you gotta figure the townsfolk would avoid Jess after this.

   Wash turns up outside the courthouse, still wanting to marry Kady. Since he really is the father of her baby, good thing he feels that way! Jess wants Kady to stay and live with him in sin, but Kady knows her baby will have a better life as a Gillespie. 

   Either way, they don’t bother to address the issue that Jess gunned down a man in cold blood, for something he didn’t even do, and he never has to answer for this. In fact, no one even seems curious about Moke skipping town.

   Moke’s ultimate plan, by the way, was to see Wash and Kady get married, then step forward and claim the child as his grandson. That would entitle him to a good chunk of the Gillespie fortune. Nothing else here works very well, but I have to admit Moke’s scheme was a fairly intelligent one.

   That’s the end of the movie. Now get this vile thing away from me!

   (To be fair to Miss Zadora, she can claim more talent than is visible from this horrible film. Word is, she's a pretty good sport too. In the interest of playing fair, I'll end with this rather more flattering peek at Pia....)


No comments:

Post a Comment