|Modern Pulp | Vintage Pulp
|Feb 15 2011
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.