Oh boy, I have been wanting to see this movie for over 25 years! I first heard of it back when I was but a horny teen lad, and the promise it held of steamy incestuous heat sounded pretty hot, especially when centered on a bearded Stacy Keach. Then, after I had started this site and I wanted to watch it again--for purely professional reasons, I must assure you--it wasn't available! Well, at last it is available, and my lifelong dream has finally been realized! And this experience has taught me many things, such as that this movie should go right on back to being unavailable, and that some lifelong dreams are utter wastes of time.
So this is from a novel by James M. Cain, author or The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity, which are now two of my favorite novels of all time. However, the word on the street is that Cain's quality declined seriously after these first few [including his third, Mildred Pierce], and are said to be centered around themes of incest. Of which Butterfly is obviously one. We open with credits that tell us not only does this star Keach and "introduces" Zadora, but also features Stuart Whitman [TV Western guy who also starred in giant bunny film Night of the Lepus], Ed McMahon of the Tonight show [I have to confess I didn't even know he acted], June Lockheart, former mom on Lost In Space, and... ORSON WELLES! Or. Son. Welles. The poor guy. Oh, one other thing: Pia's costumes, despite supposedly being 30s frontier-wear, are by Bob Mackie. Oh, and this is written and directed by Matt Cimber, who early on brought us the [questionable] splendor of The Witch Who Came From the Sea and The Black Six, and went on to dump Jaws 4 on mankind.
So it's 1937 and we're in the wretched town of Good Springs, on the Arizona-Nevada border. I hope the name "Good Springs" doesn't seem too loaded with literary messaging for you. Keach is Jess Tyler, who lives alone as the guard of this closed silver mine. We first meet Pia [her name is the nauseating "Kady," but let's just call her Pia] in the cab of a truck giving her a ride, where she is splayed alluringly, causing the trucker to come on to her, but she runs off before he can do anything serious. She then shows up at Jess' house, where she goes for about five minutes being LUDICROUSLY sexual to him while asking him all sorts of personal questions, and all the while refusing to tell him who she IS and why she's there. Nor does he ask. The result, for me at least, was a desire to conduct some batting practice on her head, but maybe straight guys will be tantalized. By the way, Pia was 24 when she made this, but is [faily plausibly] playing someone 17. So the infuriating scene continues until Pia finally reveals that she's Jess' long-lost daughter and is coming to live with him.
We start the in-- longing that night when Jess pines for her nude silhouette as she undresses in the bedroom. He's a MAN! He's got NEEDS! The next morning she is up at the mine entrance, trying to convince Jess to steal whatever silver is left in the mine [that he is guarding] and they can be rich. She reveals that she has been a whore for miners since the age of 12, and maybe she was bad, but the money was good, and if that "makes me bad, then I wanna be bad!" She also has some ludicrous justification that she is OWED the silver from the mine because of her sufferings. He takes her to church, where the preacher essentially implies that she's a fallen woman.
So Jess gives in and they decide to work the mine themselves, but it seems that Pia didn't plan on any tedious, back-breaking work. When they're done, Jess decides to give his daughter a nice hot bath, where he rubs her back and finally ends up reaching around and copping a good feel of her boobs. She takes his hand and puts it on her cooch, whereupon he exclaims "You're my daughter, Kady!" and she responds "I'm a woman, too!" But nothing happens.
So they've made a fair amount of money, and they decide to go blow it super-conspicuously in town. Um, these are STOLEN funds, right? In here is an infuriating scene where Pia picks up some locals and it ends up in a bar fight with Jess defending her.
We're less than halfway through, and already the movie is astonishingly tedious. Pia is infuriating, the mentality of a five-year-old in the body of a 17-year-old who looks like human Pekinese under her massive mop-like haircut and who seems to think [a POV supported by the filmmakers] that her alluring pout more than makes up for her obnoxiousness. I truly wanted to beat her head to a mushy pulp. Not to mention that there's just not enough kinky sexuality happening here to keep me tittillated, and what you're left with is a truly tedious drama the likes of which you've seen 300 times before. But maybe never quite this tedious. Plus, in here I thought: "Okay, I bet what happens is that they finally give in to their lust, but at the last minute we discover that she's not actually his daughter."
SPOILERS > > >
In the second half some new drama starts happening, but it's every bit as tedious as what's come before. Well, maybe less, because at least something is HAPPENING. All of a sudden Pia's older sister shows up with her baby. Then this Blond guy named Blue shows up with Jess' ex-wife, who promptly dies. Turns out Blue stole the wife from Jess, leaving a little bitterness. Then some bit about a birthmark [shaped like a butterfly, the butterfly of the title] reveals that Blue is actually Pia's dad, and the father of her baby [so you see, the incest if there, just displaced into the past]. With this knowledge, Jess finally makes it with Pia, and there's this whole subplot about her marrying some other guy, then a trial for incest [Orson Welles is the judge, and one must admit that, despite the idiocy of the part, he is pretty good]. Jess finally whips out the knowledge that she's not actually his daughter, the case is closed and Pia goes to marry the other guy, though she'll always love Jess. The movie ends with a song sung by Pia herself, over the score by Ennio Morricone.
< < < SPOILERS END
It's just truly awful. I mean, maybe if you're into really bad movies, meaning truly bad and not that fun or entertaining, you might be into it, but for me it was pretty much akin to torture. It's one of those cases where its marks of quality actually make the experience WORSE, because then you pay a little attention instead of just being able to tune out completely. Pia, rather than being amusingly horrible [see The Lonely Lady or Voyage of the Rock Aliens] was just horribly horrible, and I have previously described how I spent pretty much the entire running time imagining different ways I might bludgeon her, and objects I might bludgeon her with. Stacy Keach I have an admiration for since he was so good in the early version of The Killer Inside Me [too bad the script wasn't nearly as good], and he has some quiet dignity here--rather shocking to say in the face of what we're watching--but it's nowhere near enough. The story is downright tedious, and none of the characters or scenarios are interesting enough to carry it. If they were going to go for the incest angle, they should have just gone full-on softcore and had that be what the movie was ABOUT, rather than divert into these minor threads about who's the father of the baby and suchlike. Who cares? Everyone who sees this movie is going to see it for the question of whether this father is going to screw his daughter, and the way the movie is now assures that EVERYONE will be disappointed. This is really like watching one of those horrible TV movies like The Thorn Birds or something. My God, it is just too painful.
You could do that, or you could stick a sawed-off shotgun in your mouth--it's a toss up!