Butterfly  (1982)


What makes this different from other cinema melodramas is the sleaze.  Right from the first scene it drips and dribbles off the film, thick and pungent and flavorful.  I cannot recommend viewing this film unless you first spread a plastic dropcloth under your TV set.

Now I enjoy an old fashioned sexploitation cheesefest as much as the next guy... or maybe rather more than the next guy... and in that game one is always aware of the risk that at any moment things can turn from sexy to skeevy, from fun to fucked-up.  But even against that kind of background, this rather stands out.

The sleaze is all concentrated around, of course, Ms. Zadora.  That she should be unaware of the invention of undergarments, and generally be sexxed up in every scene in the opening act, is to be expected, I guess... but it all gets a bit much when, at the moment she has just told Tyler that she’s his long-separated daughter, it’s right then that her dress blows up to flash him some bush. The interaction between the two of them gets steadily creepier until......

I watched the first half of the film, and then waited a week or more before seeing the rest.  And then I found that, after going through the work of preparing myself to handle the (I assumed) ongoing escalation of the breadth and depth of the stream of sleaze flowing onto my carpet... it’s rather disappointing to find that in the second half, most of it just sort of inconclusively dribbles away and gets lost.  There’s no buildup to any kind of sleazy climax, it just makes a mess and then dries up where it landed.  So yeah, it disgusts you, and then disappoints you by failing to follow through on the disgust.

What’s left, with that gone, is a pretty standard-issue turgid melodrama.  And like many many other turgid melodramas, what it does is take elements that on paper could constitute genuine tragedy, and transform them by dumbed-down execution into something closer to farce.  The two main characters, Jess and Kady, are chock full of the kinds of bad decisions and gross character flaws that classically lead to self-destruction.  But — especially in Kady’s case — the defects don’t make them tragic, only unsympathetic.  And then (and damn, I saw it coming from a mile off, I knew it had to happen) the story completely pulls its punches.  Which it does by means of some random bullgas about an inheritable shape of birthmark, as which there is, of course, no such thing.  I guess you could sort of get away with that in 1947, when the source novel was written, and I guess the scenarists and producers in 1982 just didn’t care.

The cast is actually pretty decent... with a couple of obvious exceptions. (I mean, Ed McMahon, wtf??)  Stacy Keach is surprisingly solid and real when saddled with not only a turgid script, but a combover to boot.  Lois Nettleton is only on screen about five minutes, but steals every one of them. James Franciscus rocks as a moustache-twirling douchay.  The one big problem is, of course, Miss Pia Zadora.  She’s godawful.  And the knowledge that the decision to pipe all that sleaze through her was made by her husband, as the impresario of her film career, makes the bad taste even thicker.

Naturally, she sings over the closing credits.  That song does remind me that the score by Ennio Morricone is fairly nice.