Modern Pulp | Vintage Pulp Feb 15 2011
MADAME BUTTERFLY
James M. Cain’s incest-themed pulp loses its power as a movie thanks to Pia Zadora.

James M. Cain was never one to shy away from provocative subject matter, and The Butterfly, published in 1946, is no exception. In this one a middle-aged coal miner arrives at his backwoods home one day to find a nineteen year-old girl sitting on his stoop. It turns out she’s his long lost daughter, who he’s never known because his wife left him eighteen years ago. The girl, Kady, is precocious to say the least, which means seduction inevitably follows and, just as inevitably, dangerous complications pile up rather quickly. But nothing is quite what it seems and by the end, paternity is in doubt all over the place. The Butterfly isn’t considered one of Cain’s best, but we thought it was a diverting read, certainly worth the time spent. As with most Cain books, it had many editions, but this one is the 1964 Dell paperback, which we think has the best cover art.

Moving on to the 1982 film adaptation, entitled simply Butterfly, we find ourselves running out of kind words. The film starred Pia Zadora, and while it generated some good reviews and a lot of publicity owing to its supposed steaminess, time has since rendered a judgment and it isn't a kind one. Zadora was not the person for the role of Kady. We have little doubt she's alluring in real life, but cinema is not real life and it takes more than just ordinary beauty to light up the screen as a femme fatale.

It's the same with men, typically. Bogart wasn’t a classic looker, but he had that thing. Zadora doesn’t. The critics who defended her in this role are still answering for it today, and her award as Newcomer of the Year ranks as one of the Golden Globes' biggest embarrassments. Despite her unwonderful performance, Butterfly is worth a glance for its camp factor, as well as for appearances by Orson Welles as a smalltown judge and Ed McMahon as a boozehound. But if you really want to be entertained, read the book instead. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 21
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
April 20
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
April 19
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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