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 15
1912—The Titanic Sinks
Two and a half hours after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage, the British passenger liner RMS Titanic sinks, dragging 1,517 people to their deaths. The number of dead amount to more than fifty percent of the passengers, due mainly to the fact the liner was not equipped with enough lifeboats.
1947—Robinson Breaks Color Line
African-American baseball player Jackie Robinson officially breaks Major League Baseball's color line when he debuts for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Several dark skinned men had played professional baseball around the beginning of the twentieth century, but Robinson was the first to overcome the official segregation policy called—ironically, in retrospect—the "gentleman's agreement".
April 14
1935—Dust Storm Strikes U.S.
Exacerbated by a long drought combined with poor soil conservation techniques that caused excessive soil erosion on farmlands, a huge dust storm known as Black Sunday rages across Texas, Oklahoma, and several other states, literally turning day to night and redistributing an estimated 300,000 tons of topsoil.
April 13
1953—MK-ULTRA Mind Control Program Launched
In the U.S., CIA director Allen Dulles launches a program codenamed MK-ULTRA, which involves the surreptitious use of drugs such as LSD to manipulate individual mental states and to alter brain function. The specific goals of the program are multifold, but focus on drugging world leaders in order to discredit them, developing a truth serum, and making people highly susceptible to suggestion. All of this is top secret, and files relating to MK-ULTRA's existence are destroyed in 1973, but the truth about the program still emerges in the mid-seventies after a congressional investigation.
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