Butterfly (1981)

Butterfly (1981)

“It’s right if it feels good.”

Mine caretaker Jess Tyler (Stacy Keach) is tried by Judge Rauch (Orson Welles) for “improper relations” with his illegitimate grown daughter, Kady (Pia Zadora).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Con-Artists
  • Courtroom Drama
  • Incest and Incestuous Undertones
  • Mining Towns
  • Stacy Keach Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this infamous backwoods melodrama, starring one-time child actress Pia Zadora — best known for Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) — is “trashy” and “some scenes are impossibly bad and embarrassing,” but it’s “not quite as terrible as its reputation.” Indeed, Pia Zadora is a natural at portraying a scheming, manipulative young sexpot, and the story (based on James M. Cain’s novel) contains a surprising number of interesting plot twists. The notorious “bathtub scene” (in which Zadora successfully seduces Keach) may shock some — but given that these are two consenting adults who’ve never met before (and given later plot developments), it’s not really all that titillating.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • “Baby-faced” Pia Zadora, all grown up
  • Orson Welles in a surprising bit role as the local judge

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look simply for the notoriety surrounding Zadora’s simultaneous reception of the Golden Globe award for “Best New Star of the Year” and the “Worst Actress Razzie.” I suspect you’ll agree that neither was truly warranted.


One thought on “Butterfly (1981)

  1. If the reason for calling this a must rests with Zadora’s unique accomplishment (who else has done it?) of winning best and worst awards in the same year, that’s tempting.

    However, ultimately – and surprisingly for me – I can’t quite state that ‘Butterfly’ is a must.

    It certainly has much going for it: it’s nicely photographed by European DP Eddy Van Der Enden (with some great Arizona skies and landscapes), has an effective, subtle score by Ennio Morricone (a fave), and boasts one of the most eclectic casts around: not only did director Matt Cimber manage to ‘hornswoggle’ Welles into this, but he lassoed Ed McMahon and June Lockhart (!) into significant supporting roles.

    The bulk of the film is slow-going pace-wise. That is until Lois Nettleton shows up post-midway to deliver some acting chops. Unfortunately she thrusts all she can into an underwritten role.

    Things get intense at the last 30 min. point (and interesting – well, Zadora isn’t in sight for awhile). But, alas, then comes the trial (btw: Welles seems to be enjoying himself thoroughly in both of his scenes), during which Zadora decides to ‘act’ up a storm. She really is quite a joke – and not a fun joke. She performs rather like Gwyneth Paltrow in…well, anything really. Sorry…even Gwyneth is…slightly…better.

    To his credit, Keach does a fine job acting AROUND Zadora.

    When my friend Tom and I saw this upon release, we laughed ourselves silly. But we’re decidedly eccentric. One can really only approach ‘Butterfly’ with caution.

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