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"Madame Butterfly"

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Character's Name: Lt. B.F. Pinkerton
Release Date:  December 10, 1932
Director: Marion Gering
Studio:  Paramount Publix
Running Time: 85 minutes

Cast: Sylvia Sidney (Cho-Cho San), Cary Grant (Lt. B.F. Pinkerton), Charlie Ruggles (Lt. Barton), Sander Kelley (Gore), Irving Pichel (Yomadori), Helen Jerome Eddy (Cho-Cho's mother), Edmund Breese (Cho-Cho's Grandfather), Judith Vossell (Mme Gore), Louise Carter (Suzuki), Dorothy Libairo (Peach Blossom), Shiela Terry (Mrs. Pinkerton)

Madame Butterfly trailer:

- by ZoŽ Shaw
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 on.

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 Pinkerton’s 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 Japan.

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 father’s noble code: “If you cannot live with honor, then at least die with honor.”

VARIETY 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 Miss Sidney.

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
- by
Mordaunt Hall
- 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 audiences. 

- 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.

Cinematic Realism, Reflexivity and the American 'Madame Butterfly' Narartives
by W. Anthony Sheppard
Cambridge Opera Journal, 17, 1, 59-93  © 2005 Cambridge University Press

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