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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. 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. Pinkerton arrives in Japan with his American bride by his side. He goes to Butterfly to make his apologies and to finally ... Written by
Debbie Dunlap <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Do not weep, Mama-san.
But you are so young and never have you been away from home before.
But consider Mama-san, soon I shall be very great geisha and then you and the august grandfather and the little brother will have much money.
This is no place for the daughter of my son, the daughter of a noble samurai. I should never have consented to your coming here.
But we must live and I'm the only one who can work and help.
Your father died with honour when he could no longer live with honour.
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Good adaptation of the well-known story; would love to see on video
A straightforward, non-musical adaptation of Giacomo Puccini's immortal opera, this early version of the classic story is based solely on David Belasco's original play. In other words, there is no actual opera present (although some of Puccini's magnificent score is used as underscore) and the film plays out completely as straight drama. The screenplay does not make any considerable attempt to disguise its stage-bound origins, although the Russian-born director Marion Gering (who helmed many pictures for star Sylvia Sidney) does a competent job of approximating the look and feeling of war-era Japan. This was decades before on-location filming became a standard practice, and the film's art design and set decoration manages to perform the difficult task of disguising the Paramount lot as such another distinct country within comparatively meager resources.
The luminous Sylvia Sydney takes a significant gamble in attempting to play the young Japanese girl Cho-Cho San (in fact, such casting would undoubtedly be seen as politically incorrect today), however, the Bronx-born actress is more than up to the challenge and delivers quite a totally convincing performance. The character of Cho-Cho is so incredibly passive and naïve that she often comes dangerously close to becoming an artificial caricature, yet Sydney portrays the role with such genuine pathos and non-cloying sweetness that she comes across as tragic rather than foolish. Her accent also always sounds credible, and she even manages to believably look Japanese with the assist of limited stage makeup. I was terribly impressed wither her overall performance.
A young Cary Grant ably plays the object of Cho-Cho's tragic love, and he looks breathtakingly handsome in his Navy uniform. The bulk of the movie consists of Sydney and Grant playing off one another, although Charles Ruggles is likable as Grant's fellow Lieutenant. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Shelia Terry's "other woman" character is portrayed as being sympathetic and understanding, when she would have surely been written and acted as a one-dimensional monster by most filmmakers of the era. None of the characters in the "Japanese" supporting cast (nearly all of whom are American-born actors playing Japanese) are fleshed out enough to stand out, although Edmund Breese is convincing as Cho-Cho's stereotypically disapproving grandfather.
If the film has a primary shortcoming, it is that the entire premise feels a little flat when performed as a straight drama. Although it is well-written and reasonably paced, the drama simply does not soar to the appropriate level of intensity without the accompanying swell of the opera. There is still much to recommend, however, in this very touching picture, primarily the terrific performance of Sydney, which is worth watching totally on its own merit. I really do wish this film would be properly released on home video, as it deserves to be seen.
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