The Bloodstained Butterfly

The Bloodstained Butterfly
The Bloodstained Butterfly

Format: Dual Format (Blu-ray + DVD)

Release date: 22 August 2016

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Duccio Tessari

Writers: Gianfranco Clerici, Duccio Tessari

Cast: Helmut Berger, Giancarlo Sbragia, Ida Galli, Silvano Tranquilli, Wendy D’Olive, Gunther Stoll, Carole André

Original title: Una farfalla con le ali insanguinate

Italy 1971

95 mins

Duccio Tessari’s stylish murder-mystery is a forgotten, unusually complex gem of giallo cinema.

A most unusual entry in the giallo cannon of explicit murder-mystery thrillers, this very fine courtroom whodunit – delivered in its entirety for this glorious restoration – boasts a breakout turn from German import Helmut Berger, here cast as a wealthy businessman’s son with women on the mind.

The action begins in classic giallo fashion: a girl is murdered while out walking by an unseen assailant with a knife. Witnesses soon identify the apparent killer: well-known sports TV personality Alessandro Marchi (Giancarlo Sbragia). But the trial soon throws up more questions than it answers, particularly when we see that the accused and his legal team know more than they are willing to let on. Before long, the murders resume, and the accused is out on bail.

Tessari’s handsomely photographed film – the framing and texture of the Bergamo locations is exquisite – shies away from gratuitous violence (very little blood is actually spilt) and the trademark giallo eroticism, despite some soft-focus nudity. Even the requisite animal, a butterfly, of all things, is modest by giallo standards.

The wealthy are typically up to no good, of course (two lecherous middle-aged men salivating over teenagers being a case in point), with the ever-diligent police always a few steps behind. A running gag about undrinkable coffee (from a machine!) is a nice touch. A generous amount of detail over police forensics, quaint by modern standards, adds some gravity to proceedings. The opening sequence (cut from the original in several territories) introduces a fine cast with colourful precision.

Some typically Italian flourishes will inevitably raise eyebrows, particularly the access a television crew appears to have to the crime scene (filming right next to the victim’s body, no less). The director’s cameos, complete with carnations, and his wife’s casting as a key player complete a series of in-the-know gags.

Casting well-known Italian faces and a clutch of German imports, Tessari finds time to pass comment on the ethics of money in sports, while all around the faint hangover of the 1960s lingers in the air. These characters are far too nattily dressed to be leaning towards counterculture (we are near Milan, after all), but there is sufficient subversive content to keep our minds engaged. The recent Blow-Up was an obvious influence on Tessari. Interesting, too, to note some brightly coloured macs early on, which predate Nic Roeg’s Don’t Look Now by a year or more.

A forgotten, unusually complex gem of giallo cinema, this welcome reissue by Arrow Video comes complete with interviews with some of the key cast, essays on the film, a pair of commentaries and photo galleries.

Ed Gibbs