Movie Fan Man: Cinema Connoisseur

Traditional, Artsy, Genre-Within-Genre: A Little Something for Everyone

A Giallo/Detective Hybrid: A Bloodstained Beauty

by Tony Nash

(A Part of The Cycle of the Melodic Gialli)

(All opinions are of the author alone)

(Spoiler Free)

(This review is of the Italian language version)

Image result for the bloodstained butterfly

Una Farfalla con le Ali Insanguinate (The Bloodstained Butterfly) (1971) R *****

Helmut Berger: Giorgio

Giancarlo Sbragia: Alessandro Marchi

Ida Galli: Maria Marchi (as Evelyn Stewart)

Silvano Tranquilli: Inspettore Berardi

Wendy D’Olive: Sarah Marchi (as Wendi D’Olive)

Gunther Stoll: Avvocato Giulio Cordaro

Wolfgang Preiss: The Public Prosecutor

Lorella De Luca: Marta Clerici

Carole Andre: Françoise Pigaut

Written by: Gianfranco Clerici (also story) and Duccio Tessari (inspired from the works of Edgar Wallace)

Directed by: Duccio Tessari

Synopsis: The murder of a French exchange student sends the family caring for her and the man who loved her into turmoil. The father of the family is charged with her murder and her boyfriend begins a torrid affair with her best friend the daughter in an attempt to replace her. When the police in charge of the case discover another woman killed in a similar fashion, the question of a serial killer stalking the area arises.

Image result for the bloodstained butterfly

By the early 1970’s the Giallo subgenre was in full swing. The success of Dario Argento’s Animal Trilogy led to Giallos being done on regular scale per year, filmmakers able to transition from the slowly declining popularity of the Westerns. Duccio Tessari, most famous for his work on the Ringo films with Giuliano Gemma, had previous success with his “proto” Giallo La Morte Risale a Iieri Sera (The Death Occurred Last Night), a Crime Drama with tinges of Giallo themes, and got to go full on with Farfalla. Like with the former, this film combines the Giallo with other genre’s like Crime, Noir, and Detective Procedural, all melding to form a cohesive and unique mixture that offers the thrills of the Giallo, and the effectiveness of a Crime Thriller. Tessari uniquely goes back and forth between the police investigation into the film’s central murder, the trial of the man accused of killing the victim, and how the people connected to the two figures are coping with the situation. What adds to the film’s aura is that little is shown of the other characters’ personal lives, only what aspects are relevant to the case being probed. Even in this instant the audience learns some pretty crucial and sometimes damning things that leaves them wondering if the suspect on question is being set up. Keeping all events tied to the murder that brings everyone together can be difficult and would leave many plot holes, but Tessari makes it work to full effect.

Image result for edgar wallace

Image result for the bloodstained butterfly

While not stated in the credits, Tessari and his co-writer Giancarlo Clerici (two secondary characters bear his surname) were clearly influenced by the novels of Edgar Wallace. Wallace was a British writer whose Mystery/Detective stories were the only direct competition to Agatha Christie. Wallace’s stories usually centered around the death of young women, and often how their deaths led investigators into much bigger conspiracies. Ironically, Wallace was most popular over in Germany, especially after WWII, and a series of films from the late 1950’s to the early 1970’s, were based directly on his books or heavily inspired by them. Other parts of Europe enjoyed his work as well, but it was rare to see films utilize his themes and motifs outside of Germany. The story was taken from a Wallace short piece called Secret of the Black Rose, though how much of the actual plot was used is up for speculation. That Tessari’s film was a co-production with Germany, and with three of the main cast being German/Austrian natives, the Wallace influence is fairly significant.

Image result for the bloodstained butterfly

Helmut Berger, a German/Austrian leading man known for his successful career in Italy, and as filmmaker Luchino Visconti’s Muse and Life Partner until the director’s death at age 77, is an ambiguous interest as the character of Giorgio. His character isn’t the central figure of the film, but his connection to both the family and the dead girl are fairly important when the film comes to its climax. A vague individual in that very little is said of his past or what he does, save that he was in a relationship with both the murdered girl Françoise Pigaut and her best friend Sarah Marchi, whose father is later accused of her murder. Berger spends most of the film brooding, little reason given for why he’s acting the way he does, and while it’s understandable he’s crushed by Françoise’s death, his bizarre descent into what appears to be paranoia is both perplexing and worrying. While Berger is listed as the lead actor, he only appears sporadically until about the last 40 or so minutes of the film, where it seems to be almost entirely him, and while his character is important as a suspect and as a figure in the dead girl’s past, that he speaks so little and seems to have never been talked to by the police and others makes his role a little confusing.

Image result for the bloodstained butterfly

Ida Galli, an Italian leading lady and character actress, known more by her Anglo pseudonym Evelyn Stewart, is very good in the role of Maria Marchi. While a loving mother to her only daughter, Maria’s relationship with her husband Alessandro is strained at best. While it’s only hinted that he strayed, Maria’s secretive relationship with the family attorney leaves viewers wondering if she might be involved in the young Françoise’s death and her husband’s subsequent arrest. Surprisingly, Maria never makes qualms she and her husband have had their difficulties, and her husband’s success as a building contractor certainly could cast doubts as to why she would get rid of the source of her luxury and finer things, as it’s never indicated if she would benefit from either his dying or if he was convicted of wrongdoing. Galli, in the period of the Giallo, flourished as either the femme fatale, the victim, or the friend of the heroine, and this, along with Il Corpo di Deborah, made her a key figure within the genre, and a reliable repeat performer with much to offer.

Now there are other great performances in the film, but to keep this write-up relatively spoiler free, these performances must be left off the page to avoid giving away too many key elements that point to the ending.

Image result for kurosawa high and low

Image result for the bloodstained butterfly

For fans of Akira Kurosawa’s Tengoku to Jigoku (Heaven and Hell/High and Low) (like this author), this film splits its action in half, part of it focused on the murder itself and the subsequent investigation by the police and the criminal trial, and the second half looking into what happens upon the discovery of the second murder. By having the plot separated like a stage play, audiences get to see both sides of a Giallo: one half looking at how the police handle a case, and the other half looking at how the people who knew the victim are dealing with her being gone, and how it’s affecting their lives. Flavio Mogherini would attempt something similar almost a decade later with La Ragazza dal Pigiama Giallo, though his was more of a mix and match, while Tessari gives each side its own section.

Image result for the bloodstained butterfly

Striking imagery/cinematography, moody atmosphere, and fine performances from an ensemble cast, Farfalla is an early spin on the Giallo that takes it outside the influences of Mario Bava and Dario Argento, the key figures of the genre. By taking his story out of the exotic locales and the high-class areas, and setting it in the suburbs with a middle class, though somewhat financially well-off family, Tessari gives the Giallo a realism that, along with his previous La Morte, would help inspire Dick Wolf in his Law & Order franchise, about crime not having prejudices or preferences, and occurring whether others want it to or not. The ending is a complete surprise that nobody sees coming, though how the situation is resolved is a little bit of a letdown, though still satisfying for what it is, and what Tessari wanted to have play out.

(This film comes very highly recommended as there’s nothing else like it within the Giallo genre. Everything about it is well put together, and while some elements seem a little unusual with little or no explanation as to how they tie in to what’s going on, the engrossment Tessari puts the viewer in makes all these flaws minuscule. Arrow Video once shows its elegance in restoring and bringing films like this back from the dead with fine image and sound quality. The Italian language version with translated subtitles is the way to go on this one as it’s how it was originally made and keeps to the plot and structure the most.)

Fans should also check out the Grindhouse Cinema Database where this review also resides, it’s publication here at the author’s decision for one of the many series’ here

All images courtesy of Images and their respective owners

for more information

IMDB/The Bloodstained Butterfly

Wikipedia/The Bloodstained Butterfly

Buying options

Filed under: Film: Analysis/Overview, Film: Special Topics

%d bloggers like this: