THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY

PrintE-mail Written by Michael Coldwell

Ah, the life of a 1970s Italian giallo director. Wake up, add some fiendish twists to your script, fire the writer when he objects, cast some beautiful women, cast some beautiful men, stylishly film them killing each other, get drunk with Ennio Morricone, argue with the cameraman, argue with the producer, cut some tracks with Goblin, smoke, bed, repeat.  And don’t worry about paying any tax.

1971 was a very good year for that strain of noblesse. With the previous year’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage delivering the genre a blood-spattered kick up the jacksy, a flurry of similarly styled gialli (the plural, don’t you know) exploded from Cinecittà like blood from freshly cleaved arm. Over 20 were produced in ‘71 alone, most of them name-checking animals, Argento-style (somewhere in Italy there is a celebrity zoo full of retired cats, flies, iguanas, lizards, ducklings and scorpions). Duccio Tessari’s The Bloodstained Butterfly doesn’t waste any time getting stuck into the sandpit: a mysterious handsome lead, a bevy of stylish ladies, artfully filmed murders, restless camerawork and more than one good twist all serve to deliver a medium-strength dose of giallo viewing pleasure.

Seasoned TV sportscaster and ace toupee-wearer Alessandro Marchi (Giancarlo Sbragia), husband to a beautiful wife, father to a beautiful daughter, is accused of murdering a (beautiful) French girl while sporting the standard issue long coat, pork pie hat and switchblade. Dead giveaway that. All the evidence – including some nicely filmed forensic procedurals – points Alessandro’s way and soon enough he’s in the big house looking at a lengthy stretch.  But of course all is not what it seems. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, the world of tortured Giorgio (Helmut Berger) is falling apart as he struggles to come to terms with his own tragic secret…

Director Tessari (Death Occurred Last Night), working from an elegantly linear, co-written script, does a decent job of bringing these character orbits together, juggling our sympathies all the way through to a suitably operatic conclusion. The great Helmut Berger doesn’t have a great deal to do apart from walking moodily around the delightfully picturesque city of Bergamo but does get to deliver one of the most intense love scenes ever committed to celluloid. Better still, he consented to be interviewed for this very nicely appointed Arrow release, wherein he radiates majestic distain for his director (“not an artist. Slowly…the hammer on the wall) and those rather languorous walking scenes while acknowledging the film itself came out pretty well in the end.  It’s a great, spiky encounter with a fascinatingly actor that could have easily been two or three times as long.

What’s missing is much in the way of actual blood – surprising given the importance of visual excess to the post-Crystal Plumage Giallo boom. If that’s a deal-breaker, there’s always Deep Red. While never in any danger of matching those dizzy heights of mayhem and suspense, The Bloodstained Butterfly remains a classy evening’s viewing.

Extras: audio commentary, visual essay on the film, interviews with Helmut Berger and Evelyn Stewart, retrospective on Duccio Tessari, dual language soundtracks, trailers, booklet
 

THE BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY / CERT 18 / DIRECTOR: DUCCIO TESSARI / SCREENPLAY: GIANFRANCO CLERICI  , DUCCIO TESSARI / STARRING: HELMUT BERGER, GIANCARLO SBRAGIA, IDA GALLI (AS EVELYN STEWART), SILVANO TRANQUILLI / RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 22ND
 


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