Matchup of the Day: My Fair Lady vs. Butterfly
It’s another belated matchup! Audrey Hepburn and Pia Zadora share a May 4 birthday. Today we’ll look at a couple of films where they play young women in need of refinement.
Butterfly is based on a novel by James M. Cain, the same person who wrote Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Mildred Pierce. While Butterfly is not held in the same esteem as the other adaptations of Cain’s work (it was nominated for Worst Picture by the Razzies), it does have a score by Ennio Morricone and Orson Welles plays a judge. My Fair Lady was is based on the Broadway musical of the same name, which was adapted from the George Bernard Shaw play Pygmalion. It received eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Butterfly takes place on the Arizona-Nevada border in 1937. Pia Zadora (in her first adult film role after appearing in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians as a child) plays Kady Tyler, a sexually uninhibited 17-year-old. Her motto is basically “If it feels good, then it must be good”. She shows up at the silvermine guarded by Jess Tyler, claiming to be his daughter. Jess accepts her and, before long, she talks him into stealing some of the silver from the mine. That, and Kady acts suggestively toward Jess. Later, they go to town to sell the silver. Kady hits on a couple guys who want to drive off with her. Jess ends up in a brawl to stop her from leaving.
In My Fair Lady, Audrey Hepburn stars as Eliza Doolittle, a woman with a thick Cockney accent who sells flowers on the street. She meets a phonetics professor, Henry Higgins, who is aghast at her low-class pronunciation of the English language. When he claims that he could pass her off as a high society woman after coaching her to speak properly, Eliza takes him up on it. Higgins has her move into his house and they begin an intensive program of cultivation. He teaches her how to talk, dress and carry herself among the upper classes.
When Eliza’s ne’er-do-well father hears about the arrangement, he comes calling under the pretense of parental concern. What he really wants is to hit Higgins up for £5 so he can buy more alcohol. A similar situation occurs when the man who ran off with Jess’s wife, Moke Blue, shows up at the mine. The reason is rather complicated, but it turns out that Blue is actually Kady’s father. This is determined because Kady has a baby with a butterfly birthmark and so does Moke Blue. Oh, and Kady intends to marry the son of the mine’s owner. Blue came along in hopes of getting his hands on the silvermine after revealing that he was Kady’s true parent.
Butterfly is under two hours long and it packs more into its running time than the three hour My Fair Lady. I didn’t even get into the incest trial at the end of the film. I’m not even sure if the butterfly tattoo has some symbolic meaning. My Fair Lady is one of those caterpillar-to-a-butterfly movies, as Eliza does grow into a sophisticated woman. Kady ends up driving off to be married to the son of the mine owner at the end of Butterfly, so maybe that means she’s ready to settle down. Her change just doesn’t appear to be as dramatic.