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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>
MADAME BUTTERFLY (Paramount, 1932), directed by Marion Gering, stars Sylvia Sidney in one of her most atypical movie roles of her career, as well as memorable, that of a Japanese maiden. Those familiar with the Giacomo Puccini opera of that same name, will take notice that this screen adaptation is not an operatic reproduction but just simply a straightforward dramatic story in itself.
As for the plot, Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton (Cary Grant) and Lieutenant Barton (Charlie Ruggles) are two American Navy officers on shore in Japan. At a gathering, Pinkerton meets Cho-Cho San (Sylvia Sidney), a beautiful Japanese maiden who is about to become a Geisha. She disgraces her family by accepting Pinkerton's love to become his bride. Although she takes her marriage vows seriously, theirs are not truly bound with love. After the "honeymoon" is over, Pinkerton returns to the states with the fleet, with Cho-Cho San, whom Pinkerton has nicknamed "Butterfly," remaining in Japan where she keeps his home until he returns. Three years pass. During that time, Cho-Cho San, has given birth to a son she names "Trouble" (Philip Horomate). She is still confident that someday her husband will return to her. But what has happened to Pinkerton during that time? Did he go down with his ship? No quite. He has married his fiancé, an American girl named Adelaide (Sheila Terry), whom he intends on taking with him to Japan.
Sylvia Sidney, who by this time has been playing tragic American heroines in such Depression dramas as AN American TRAGEDY and STREET SCENE (both 1931), resumes playing this sort of role, but this time as a Japanese girl. She gives a believable performance, particularly with her round doll face features. Cary Grant, still relatively new to films and on a fast rise to leading man status, is acceptable as Pinkerton, giving one of his more noted performances during his early years as a screen actor, which began the very year of the release of MADAME BUTTERFLY. Charlie Ruggles provides some humorous moments as Barton.
The supporting cast includes: Helen Jerome-Eddy and Grandma San; Edmund Breese as Cho-Cho's grandfather; Sandor Kallay as Goro; with Irving Pichel as Yomadori; Berton Churchill as Sharpless; and Louise Carter as Suzuki.
Rarely seen in recent years, MADAME BUTTERFLY used to have frequent revivals during the mid afternoon or after midnight hours on commercial television way back in the 1960s and 70s, and with Cary Grant who had reached super star status in motion pictures lasting more than 20 years (retiring in 1966), his name alone would guarantee viewer-ship whenever shown.
While MADAME BUTTERFLY is an acceptable version based on David Belasco's play, the plot, however, can be a trifle slow at times during its 85 minutes of screen time, but Sylvia Sidney's performance, the presence of Cary Grant, as well as the reproduction of Japanese settings, make this curio worth watching, it it could ever be found or revived again. (***)
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