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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Butterflies are Free (1972)

"Are you really blind? Not just nearsighted?"
- Jill Tanner (Goldie Hawn)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: April 22, 2002

Stars: Edward Albert, Goldie Hawn, Eileen Heckart
Other Stars: Michael Glaser, Mike Warren
Director: Milton Katselas

MPAA Rating: PG
Run Time: 01h:49m:13s
Release Date: April 23, 2002
UPC: 043396077546
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Goldie Hawn was a perky little thing, wasn't she? (I suppose she still sort of is, but "perky" applied to someone in their late 50s just doesn't seem right.) Gifted screen comediennes are rare, these days especially, and this new DVD of Butterflies are Free affords us the opportunity to reconsider some of Hawn's work from the first years of her career, not long after her stint on Laugh-In and her prize-winning performance in Cactus Flower. It's sort of a creaky work, and decidedly middlebrow; it's become a staple of high school and regional theater, sort of the Arsenic and Old Lace of its era. But it's a crowd pleaser, not least of all because during great swatches of it Goldie is running around in her underwear.

It wants to speak to its time and place, but Butterflies are Free is really more of a well-made play than an expression of late '60s idealism; its closest affinity isn't with movies like Easy Rider, but with early Neil Simon pieces like Barefoot in the Park and Come Blow Your Horn, or going back further, to the drawing room comedies of Kaufman and Hart (You Can't Take It With You, The Man Who Came to Dinner). But in this case the drawing room is a pair of bare, subdivided San Francisco apartments, with a door conveniently between them that can easily be jimmied open. On one side lives Jill Tanner (Goldie Hawn), who is 19, from L.A., and already divorced: her marriage at sixteen lasted all of six days, though Jill says "it felt like weeks." The paper-thin walls allow her to hear one side of the fight in the next apartment: Don Baker (Edward Albert) is on the phone with his mother, who wants her little boy to come back home. Don is about Jill's age, harbors fantasies of being a folk singer, and most important, for the story, was born blind. The vision/blindness metaphors are working overtime here, and there's a strong don't-condescend-to-the-impaired current running through the piece. (Don plays the title song over and over, though the better song he's given, John Denver's Country Road, is only heard once, for a few bars.) Don's guitar seals the deal, and after just a couple of hours together, he is crazy in love with the girl next door.

Mother doesn't think that Don can make it on his own, though they have agreed to a two-month trial, with him out of the house in the suburbs and into his own pad in the Haight; we're halfway through, and Mrs. Baker wants to come and check up on her boy after his month alone, despite this being against their agreement. The film was based on a successful Broadway play, and the movie doesn't quite solve the problem of making this much more than people talking and talking in rooms. (Or room, really: just about all the action is in Don's studio apartment.) There are two stabs at opening things up, neither of them especially successful. In the first, Jill takes Don shopping to get him into some groovy new clothes and out of his mother's selections from Saks, and in the second, Jill and Mrs. Baker go out for lasagna, in a scene that might as well be played in Don's apartment, for all the visual interest (or lack thereof) the filmmakers provide.

The script is filled with bromides that would be more at home on greeting cards: Don says, for instance, that he "can look past their eyes and into their souls," and that his mother's books, a series of children's stories about a blind boy named Donnie Dark, "were a projection of what she hoped I'd be." Mom counters with this sort of romantic advice: "You are going to meet many girls, and one day you'll meet one capable of a permanent relationship." It's also got that telescoped, only-in-the-movies thing going: all the action takes place over the course of two days, during which everybody's lives are turned topsy-turvy. There's no shortage of offscreen characters to dominate the conversation, ranging from Jill's husband and mother to Don's late father to Don's first great love, a girl who bears more than a passing similarity to Jill. For a story that plops itself into the middle of the hippest neighborhood during a turbulent time, it's decidedly old fashioned, almost fuddy duddy. (The movie was made in 1972, which already seems a few years away from the height of the zeitgeist the film wants so desperately to capture. I guess it would be like making a movie today wanting to get at just what the kids are up to, and having the principal subject matter being this crazy new thing they call the Internet.)

With the benefit of hindsight, it's hard not to compare Hawn's performance here with that of her daughter in Almost Famous—both characters are sprightly free spirits who catalyze the maturing of the relationship between our hero and his mommy. The physical similarities between mother and daughter are to be expected, of course, but the consistency of their mannerisms can be downright eerie. Hawn isn't even the best one in the cast, though. Eileen Heckart won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar® for her performance as Don's mother, and she doesn't succumb to the temptation to make Mrs. Baker nothing more than a nasty old battle axe; and the story is well-crafted enough to give her some great laugh lines. (Her entrance into Don's apartment is a particularly well constructed bit of comic business.)

The three leads get the bulk of screen time, but two smaller roles are filled by future TV cops: Ralph, the theater director putting the moves on Jill, is played by Paul Michael Glaser of Starsky and Hutch, though he's billed here as Michael Glaser; and Michael Warren, later of Hill Street Blues, is a groovy neighborhood haberdasher.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - P&S
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: The fact that one of the principal characters in the movie is blind is hardly justification for the poor video presentation. Colors are so dreary and indistinct that you'll occasionally think that this is a movie about mud people, and things vary from washed out to oversaturated, in a fairly arbitrary manner. The disc is a flipper, and the panning and scanning isn't egregious, given that there's little of visual interest in the frame.

Image Transfer Grade: C-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: It sounds as if the source material was pretty poor, so I suppose the audio transfer can't be to blame for the terrible dialogue looping or the inconsistent sound effects. (One scene takes place during a rainstorm, for instance, and the sound of the weather comes and goes, though the precipitation against the windows seems consistent.) Dialogue is sufficiently clear, at least.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Groundhog Day, Seems Like Old Times, Cactus Flower
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The three additional trailers are full frame; seems like two Goldie Hawn movies and another Columbia comedy thrown in for good measure. Nothing else at all on hand, not even a trailer for the feature on the disc.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Butterflies are Free seems a little moth-eaten, and the DVD presentation is a pretty bare-bones affair. Still, there are worse ways to pass the time, and the movie is good for a couple of laughs, if it lacks the keen insight into the human condition it so desperately wants to offer.


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