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.
audio commentary, visual essay on the film, interviews with Helmut Berger and
Evelyn Stewart, retrospective on Duccio Tessari, dual language soundtracks,
/ BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY DUCCIO TESSARI