Those expecting Puccini's warhorse opera when they see the 1932 Madame Butterfly are in for a huge disappointment, as this straight film version uses the beautiful music only as occasional underscoring. It's odd to adapt a story that is best known in its operatic form as an all-talking drama, but it would make sense if the underlying dramatic material were so strong that it deserved to be the focus of attention, freed from the distraction of melody. But Butterfly's script doesn't meet those requirements. Oh, the story in its bare bones outline is certainly engaging enough and has plenty of potential, but the way in which the writers tell that story is not exactly on the highest level. The melodramatics keep the viewer engaged, but the dialogue and character development at times are too artificial and jarring. That said, this Butterfly does soar at times, thanks largely to its cast and director. Although not Asian, the luminous Sylvia Sidney handles the difficult title role with grace and skill and totally captures the hearts and affections of her viewers. Cary Grant, early enough in his career that he can play a bounder, makes Pinkerton likeable through the actor's own unique charm and presence. Marion Gering directs with a careful, sure hand, and finds many opportunities to create lovely pictures and, with the assistance of his designers, to convince viewers that the backlot is actually Japan.
by Craig Butler review