- by ZoŽ
Pinkerton marries Cho-Cho San in
Japan, whilst on shore leave. When he leaves, she keeps his Japanese home as
he left it. He returns three years later, having married again in America,
and tells Cho-Cho that their affair is over. She has had a child in his
absence, who is sent to her family, before she kills herself.
- by Debbie Dunlap
Those familiar with the Madame Butterfly story will no
doubt wonder why Cary Grant, so conscientious about maintaining a positive, on-screen
image, would agree to appear in such a negative role. My only guess would be that at the
time this film was made, he was still very new to show business and under studio contract;
therefore, this was made before he was a free agent and could pick and choose his roles.
For those unfamiliar with the Madame Butterfly story, read
Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton is on shore-leave in Japan. He
and his buddy Lieutenant Barton, out for a night on the town, stop in at a local
establishment to check out the food, drink and girls, uh, and girls to quote
Lt. Barton. Pinkerton spies Cho-Cho San and immediately falls in lust. Barton counsels
Pinkerton that he can marry this beautiful Japanese girl, enjoy himself with
cultural approval, then sail happily on back to America unshackled, since abandonment
equates divorce in Japan. Barton assures Pinkerton that once abandoned, Cho-Cho will be
free to marry whomever she chooses from amongst the Japanese people.
Unfortunately for Cho-Cho, whose name means butterfly in
Japanese, she falls deeply in love with her American Lieutenant, adopting his language,
customs and God as her own. In doing so, she is ostracized by her family.
When Pinkertons ship sails out of port, Butterfly
waits patiently for her husband to come home. Three years pass. Ever with her eye toward
the harbor, Butterfly holds a secret delight that she eagerly wishes to surprise her
husband with: their son. As her hope begins to wane, she seeks the help of the American
consulate, who then relates to Pinkerton that he still has a bride waiting for him in
Pinkerton arrives in Japan with his American bride by his
side; his childhood sweetheart. He goes to Butterfly to make his apologies and to finally
end what Butterfly for three years has cherished in her heart . She nobly frees him from
his obligation to her, never telling him of their son.
Butterfly hands her son over to her grandfather to be
tutored in the ways of the Samauri and then kills herself. Dying by her fathers
noble code: If you cannot live with honor, then at least die with honor.
Film Review - December 27, 1932
- by "Bige"
- submitted by Barry Martin
Although the pattern has been used
for screen purposes in various forms countless times, the
'Butterfly' theme and title have been dormant in this amusement
branch since a silent version years ago. Although it's
cleaned up a bit, with the seduction of Mme. Butterfly slightly
purified by a native marriage ceremony, and the dialog contains
some current slang that wasn't in the original, nothing radically
new was inserted by the talker producers. The most pleasant
change is the tragic heroine, Sylvia Sidney, as lovely as Mme.
Butterfly as ever curled her eyebrows upward.
Miss Sidney was up against a tough
assignment and sometimes she doesn't finish on top. The role
as constructed and the lines as written very often become too much
of a struggle for her, as they would for probably any
actress. As the wistful geisha girl who meets her one and
only in her first night at the Japanese Rose Bailey's and then
crams an entire married life into a Yankee sailor's six weeks'
shore leave, she is most convincing most of the time. But
the old-fashioned build-up and the pigeon English that goes with
it make for an unfavorable start.
By the time Miss Sidney surmounts
the handicaps by the simple artistry of her acting, the plot has
slowed down to a turtle's gallop. It's too late then.
There are numerous Japanese
characters in for every purpose from paternal severity to comedy
relief. They do everything but risley. More comedy
comes from Charlie Ruggles in one of those stock Ruggles
roles. Cary Grant is okay on the looks but a rather cold
Lieut. Pinkerton who fails to look, sound or act as impulsive as
the authors intended him to be. A cute Japanese kid about
three years old is the cast's most interesting member outside of
Puccini's opera score runs through
the sound track as a musical background but never is permitted to
be heard above the dialog nor gain distinction in the pantomimic
moments. Grant sings one song it it isn't so hot.
Photography first rate.
NEW YORK TIMES Film Review - December 24, 1932
- submitted by Barry Martin
Except for the persuasive
acting of Sylvia Sidney, "Madame Butterfly," as a
talking film, is not especially successful. The script seems to
have been contrived on the theory that an aggressive use of the
word "honorable" in the dialogue allotted to the
Japanese characters would result in a picturesque quality. Miss
Sidney in particular is forced to wrestle with a type of pidgin
English that smacks less of the Orient than of the studio mills.
Cho-Cho-San's dashing American lover is "the most best nice
man in all world," as well as "Honorable Lieutenant B.
F. Pinkerton, the whole works." The humor is of the same
whimsical antiquity, and it accomplishes the feat of representing
Charles Ruggles as an in-effective comedian.
The tragic romance of the geisha
girl moves leisurely through an exquisite flower garden, Goro's
sinful establishment and the lovely Cho-Cho's house on the hill
where she can watch the American fleet in the harbor and sigh for
her lover to return. Through the story runs an engaging musical
score compounded from Puccini's "Madame Butterfly"
strains. In costuming, make-up and settings, the film is quaintly
satisfying, and the composition of the photography has its own
charms. The pace of the picture is too lethargic for modern
- by Kathy Fox
This film is based on Puccini's
Madame Butterfly and has music from the opera dispersed throughout the film.
This is Cary Grant's 7th film and the last one he made in 1932, and he will
appear two other times with Ms. Sidney in MERRILY WE GO TO HELL and
THIRTY-DAY PRINCESS. Grant plays Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton who falls
in love while on leave in Japan and marries Cho-Cho San, played by Ms.
Sidney. All along Pinkerton is engaged to an American girl. When
his shore leave is up, Pinkerton leaves and promises to return when the
robin nests; however, it is three years until he will return. In the
meantime, Cho-Cho has had his child, a son. When Pinkerton returns, he
brings his American wife with him and comes to say good-bye to Cho-Cho, who
becomes distraught when she discovers that he is married and has no
intention of staying. She decides not to tell him he has a son.
She gives her child to her parents to raise and disgraced, kills herself.
One good thing came out of this movie. It is rumored that while making
this film that Mae West saw Grant walking on the Paramount lot and was
purported to have said, "If he can talk, I'll take him," with the
resulting fact that he starred with her in her next movie, SHE DONE HIM
WRONG, and the rest is history.
Realism, Reflexivity and the American 'Madame Butterfly'
by W. Anthony Sheppard
Cambridge Opera Journal, 17, 1, 59-93 © 2005 Cambridge
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