“This is a story about greed, love and violence, set in the steaming jungles and tropical cities of Latin America. It was written by a man who spent years of his life in the tropical hell of the worst prison on earth, where he learned the truth about greed and love and violence.”
I’ve been interested in seeing Popsy Pop (a.k.a. The Butterfly Affair) for a long time and I recently got the chance to after I came across a cheap DVD of the movie available from East West DVD. The quality of the East West DVD is awful, which should be obvious from my screen shots below, but I was happy that I finally got a chance to see the movie.
Popsy Pop (1971) is a heist crime/caper film made by the French director Jean Herman. Herman is responsible for one of my favorite heist films of all time (Adieu l’ami a.k.a. Honor Among Thieves) so I knew I’d probably enjoy Popsy Pop and I wasn’t wrong.
This fascinating film was scripted by Henri Charrière who also stars in the film. Popsy Pop is loosely based on his second book called Banco the Further Adventures of Papillon. If that title sounds familiar, it’s because Henri Charriere’s first book was the critically acclaimed Papillon, which was later made into an award winning film. Many people are aware of Henri Charrière thanks to the film version of Papillon that told the story of his long captivity in the penal colony of French Guiana as well as his later imprisonment and eventual escape from the notorious prison, Devil’s island.
The real Henri Charrière and Steve McQueen as Henri Charrière in Papillon
In the film version of Papillon the role of Henri “Papillon” Charrière is played wonderfully by Steve McQueen who was nominated for a Golden Globe thanks to his terrific performance in the movie. Popsy Pop is no Papillon, and no one was nominated for any awards after it was released, but it is a fun movie and fascinating to watch if you happen to be interested in the real Henri Charrière like myself.
Interestingly, Papillon (1973) was made after Popsy Pop (1971) which seems to have been almost completely ignored by most film critics at the time. This isn’t surprising since Popsy Pop will probably only appeal to a small audience of movie lovers like myself who enjoy unusual caper films shot in exotic locations with great soundtracks. If you’re looking for a solid well acted film with a coherent script, you should probably look elsewhere since Popsy Pop has very little to hold it together besides Claudia Cardinale’s fabulous wardrobe and wacky wigs.
Popsy Pop (Claudia Cardinale) meets Inspector Silva (Stanley Baker)
The talented Claudia Cardinale (The Leopard, Cartouche, Once Upon a Time in the West, Fitzcarraldo, etc.) plays the cute and sexy Popsy Pop, a small time celebrity who travels to the jungles of Venezuela to entertain locals at a shabby night spot. She arrives by boat carrying bags of heavy luggage as well as a copy of Lewis Carroll’s book Alice in Wonderland and a large porcelain doll she likes to call Alice. These strange Alice In Wonderland references almost appear meaningless at first but soon unveil themselves. In some ways the book and doll are props to make Popsy seem more innocent than she really is, but as the film develops Popsy’s life begins to resemble a more darker version of Alice’s own adventures in Wonderland.
Tough guy Stanley Baker (The Guns of Navarone, Eva, Zulu, A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin , etc.) plays Inspector Silva who is keeping his eye on the local diamond fortune. He greets Popsy when she arrives in the steamy jungle and soon the heat between them both starts to rise. Inspector Silva falls for pretty Popsy fast and hard, which is somewhat understandable since his life in the jungle seems to have very little distractions and Popsy is most certainly an interesting distraction. Soon he is offering himself up as her personal escort and they quickly develop a loosely formed realtionship.
Popsy (Claudia Cardinale) performing her signature song
The blossoming romance between Popsy and Silva is soon overshadowed by the presence of Marco who’s played by Henri Charrière. Marco is planning a diamond heist along with a couple of unsavory thugs and the seemingly innocent Popsy. Henri Charrière’s character Marco is a career criminal who is obviously based on Charrière himself. It quickly becomes clear that Marco is already in a romantic relationship with Popsy and that he has previously come into contact with Inspector Silva. Marco knows the Inspector’s weakness for beautiful women and he has brought Popsy to the island to distract the oblivious Inspector while they steal the diamonds.
Like most good heist films things don’t exactly go as planned and Popsy Pop ends up stealing the diamonds for herself. Soon Inspector Silva and Marco are forced to team up and together they begin a cross country chase through the jungles and cities of Latin America after Popsy and the elusive diamonds.
Marco (Henri Charrière ) and Inspector Silva (Stanley Baker) question a hotel clerk
Claudia Cardinale is always interesting to watch and she seems to be enjoying her role as Popsy. On the other hand Stanley Baker is rather dull as Inspector Silva and looks a bit lost in the movie. And as much as I enjoyed seeing Henri Charrière playing Marco, his action scenes were a bit hard to watch. Charrière had lived a hard life and he was 65 years old at the time that the movie was made. Unfortunately his age and poor health are somewhat obvious in the film, but Charrière also has a sense of humor and that’s on display as well. For a man who spent much of life in prison, you’ve got admire his ambition at age 65 to attempt acting in a film based on his own script.
Jean Herman’s directing is occasionally really impressive in the film, especially after the chase for Popsy and the diamonds begin, but it also seems muddled by the clumsy script and lackluster performances from the three main stars. A lot of the action in the film is unintentionally funny and poorly executed, but I think the unusual plot turns as well as the exotic locations keep the film interesting.
Popsy (Claudia Cardinale) hides out at the home of an unusal priest
Music always plays an integral part in my own enjoyment of any movie and it can often make or break a film in my opinion. The soundtrack for Popsy Pop is without a doubt one of the most unusual ones I’ve ever heard. I really enjoyed the music conjured up by Frédéric Botton for this film, which is a strange combination of primitive drumming and early synthesizer sounds. It gives the movie an almost surreal mood at times and seems to build and build as the film heads toward it’s climax. Claudia Cardinale also sings a musical number in the production, but the only thing really memorable about that is the bizarre costume she wore while singing the song. Unfortunately the soundtrack is not available on CD yet, but you can occasionally find the soundtrack on vinyl selling for rather steep prices.
With all it’s faults I still found a lot to enjoy about Popsy Pop. It’s a shame that the movie hasn’t gotten a better DVD release yet because it would really benefit from a better quality print with good sound. Hopefully a DVD company will take the time to restore the film someday before it’s forgotten about forever.