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The Butterfly by James M. Cain - Book and Film Combo Gifting Idea

Updated on June 9, 2018
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Ms. Venegas believes reading is essential for understanding the rapidly changing world. She enjoys sharing books with others.

The Butterfly
The Butterfly

Experience the Film and Book Together

Maybe you and your friend make it a point to experience the book, as well as, the film. If there is a great plot with well thought out characters both story treatments will sharpen your critiques and enjoyment.

Here is a gift idea. Get the matching pair of novel and film version of a Cain story. The film, The Butterfly, was produced in 1982, decades after the novel version.

The film industry had not ignored Cain. He tried to write scripts and failed even after several years on studio contracts. What he wrote for reading never came across in the script, according to studio execs. Studios loved his ideas, though, and made 17 films from his short stories and novels. His most noteworthy novel and film was The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Going through and reading each publication of a favorite author is fun and entertaining. It is like tasting every micro beer out there. One can not get enough. Reading all of Cain's publications can be problematic, because he died in 1977 and books go out of print.

A Book/Film Duo Gift for the person who has everything!

The Film - 1982

The film version of the The Butterfly is interesting. It stars Stacy Keach and Pia Zadora. Reading the credits at the end I found out Orson Welles is featured, as well. He is the judge during the court scenes. If you know old Hollywood, there are appearances of other well known actors.

This film is about Nevada's mining area in 1937: and incest? Incest would be one of those forbidden topics Cain liked to explore in his novels. The film is 10 times more racy than the novel, but plot and scenes are true to Cain's hapless character intrigues. The movie even has an original music score receiving a Golden Globe nomination. Pia Zadora won a Golden Globe as Best New Star. The following year the film was handsomely nominated as a Razzie top achiever.

Cinematography, art and set direction deliver crisp, bright scenes.

Scene giveaways is not the point here, but Wikipedia has a good summary if you have to have it. Reading the novel first is the best way to enjoy this entertaniment experience.

Big Sandy, West Virginia. Mine and housing. 1946
Big Sandy, West Virginia. Mine and housing. 1946 | Source

The Book- 1946

I read The Butterfly in 1991, and it left an impression. As I was reading the story I started to realize I had seen this in the movie version a few years earlier. The film was made in the eighties and it is amazing how film makers would use a 1946 novel and make a movie of it almost 40 years later. As a novelist Cain was popular during and just after WWII.

Cain wrote in the preface, (the preface is as entertaining as the novel), the characters are fictitious. Not the Big Sandy area of West Virginia, a locale mirrored in the novel. In 1922 he worked there as a reporter and hired on in the mining industry, an early form of research reporting. Cain noted in his preface, "Yes, I have actually mined coal, and distilled liquor, as well as seen a girl in a pink dress, and seen her take it off."

The Butterfly
The Butterfly

When viewing availablity do a thorough search because there are many different issues and printings of this book to choose from. The story was written in 1946 and takes place in the 1930s in the Appalachia mountains.


The James M. Cain Style

One aspect of Cain's writing was his skill in developing character relationships through dialogue. Add a few sentences of setting, action, character thoughts, and you have the Cain style. He preferred to write in the first person. All his novels move fast. The scenes are written by the consummate gentleman. Nothing raw or graphic, but subjects are explored, such as, murder, double crossing lovers, the prostitute, underage love interests, bank embezzlement, and incest. The Depression and oil wildcatting, was explored in The Moth. Even being fat got its own novel!

He seemed to find angles and even some sympathy in untouched subjects and everyday events. As we progressed into the later 20th century his style appeared naive or corny. No matter to me and many admirers. Three of his later novels he could not get published himself were published after his death.

He researched all of his story lines to get his facts right and made sure to visit the areas that the stories are set in. The setting for The Butterfly was a locale he was sent to in his early reporting days. He spent time in the Big Sandy during the mining company and union fights of 1921. He sent everyday news dispatches to the Baltimore Sun. He went back to the area in 1922 to get more information for a novel and got hired as a card carrying union miner. This novel about the area did not materialize till 1946.

He got spooked about the project after an invite to dinner with company management that resulted in the cold shoulder from his miner coworkers. He skipped town without even waiting for his paycheck.

First Edition For Sale on the Internet
First Edition For Sale on the Internet

A Passage From the Book The Butterfly

Here the main character, Jess, is introduced to a baby boy.

"...for a long time something kept stabbing into my heart, and I'd look at him and feel so glad he was partly mine that I wanted to sing. His diaper slipped down a little and I almost died when I saw a brown bug on his stomach, or what I thought was a brown bug, just below the navel. I reached for it with my fingers, but Jane laughed.

"That's his birthmark."

"I thought it was some kind of a moth."

"It's his butterfly."

"It almost scared me to death."

Have You Read or Seen The Butterfly?

Are you familiar with The Butterfly?

See results

Explore Online for Your Film/Book Duo Gift

Find a billing poster to go with the book and film. Knock the stocks off your entertainment lover recipient. He will think you a genius. Pair any of the books and films that may be your recipient's favorite author. Add a tie-in for extra effect with your presentation on gifting day.

See a list on Wikipedia of the 17 films that were made from James Cain's novels and novellas.


Hoopes, Roy. Cain: The Biography of James M. Cain. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Board of Trustees, Southern Illinois University, 1987.

Cain, James M. Three by Cain: Serenade, Love's Lovely Counterfeit, The Butterfly. New York. Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, Inc.,1989.

© 2013 Sherry Venegas

Are you a Cain fan?

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      4 years ago

      I did see both the 1941 version and the recent miniseries of Mildred Pierce. I loved them both. I think that I would love The Butterfly because of theauthoe and I really like Stacey Keach. Great review!

    • goldenrulecomics profile image


      4 years ago from New Jersey

      I'm a fan of James M. Cain, and read The Butterfly about 20 years ago. Great story. I never saw the movie, but with Pia Zadora I don't have any interest. Nicely done review.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I love the artwork on old book covers. I'm not familiar with James Cain. I like historical novels and mysteries without gore. Thanks for introducing James Cain.


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