Sony // 1970 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 9th, 2009
When two people are in love they're a couple. When four people are in love they're the Buttercup Chain.
The disc for The Buttercup Chain contains a recipe for a butterscotch martini. Apparently this drink is concocted of two parts vanilla vodka, three parts butterscotch schnapps, one butterscotch candy, and a rim dusted with graham cracker crumbs. This is significant for two reasons. One, this has been released by Sony as part of the "Martini Movies" line of DVDs. The box claims these features are "One part top-shelf martini, two parts celluloid history and garnished with a hint of camp." The second reason I mention the recipe is because it's going to take two or three of Butterscotch Martinis to make The Buttercup Chain worth watching.
The Buttercup Chain is the story of cousins Franz (Hywel Bennett, The Virgin Soldiers) and Margaret (supermodel Jane Asher). Franz has the bizarrely incestuous idea that Margaret needs to get herself a lover, so Franz picks out Fred (Sven-Bertil Taube) for her and Manny (Leigh Taylor-Young) for himself. The foursome go traipsing across Europe discovering themselves and butting heads with the limits of their upbringing.
I have to give credit to The Buttercup Chain for trying. It might have been a little late to the free-love party, but at least it tries to show the limits of typical monogamous relationships while offering an alternative. Although this particular foursome seems doomed from the start, at least the film tried to do something a little different.
The attempt, however, can't outweigh the film's problems. First, if you're going to tell a story about the dissolute youth, you've got to have something besides dissolute youth going for you. Bret Easton Ellis had amazing prose, Bertolluci's Dreamers had the Paris riots as a backdrop and especially freaky characters, while The Buttercup Chain has four characters who wander around feeling angsty about their love lives. That's not particularly compelling. The film is primed to show the easing of restrictions on nudity, with a story that could easily support loads of male and female flesh. Unfortunately, it drops the ball, giving the audience a tame film that flirts with casual nudity, but ultimately seems rather puritanical.
Which brings us to the film's inclusion in the "Martini Movies" collection. Although the film fails as a shining star of cinematic history, it works pretty well as a campy film to watch with friends and a pitcher of an adult beverage. In fact, the film's failings make it even more enjoyable in this context. If the film were more successful we would laugh with it instead of at it, which would decrease the camp value significantly. As it is, the film is only tolerable as an ironic viewing experience.
On the DVD side of things, Sony has done an excellent job with The Buttercup Chain. The best thing to recommend the film is its camera work, which boasts interesting angles and a warm color palette. Those strengths are highlighted in this DVD's transfer, which has no serious compression problems or print damage that I noticed. The warmth of some of the European locations comes through nicely. The audio isn't quite as impressive, but the no-frills soundtrack is fine for this kind of dialogue-driven film. The only extra is the film's theatrical trailer, a nice little peek into cinematic history and the marketing of movies.
Honestly, there's very little to recommend The Buttercup Chain on its own. The story is way too tame by today's standards, there's very little action and, although the film is competently put together, it's just not worth watching for that alone. As a campy film for "martini night," I guess it's okay, but I can't help but feel there are better films for that situation. I guess a rental is the best recommendation I can give the flick if you're planning a retro movie evening.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1970
MPAA Rating: Rated R