Butterflies Are Free is a 1972 American comedy-drama film based on the play by Leonard Gershe. The 1972 film was produced by M.J. Frankovich, released by Columbia Pictures, directed by Milton Katselas and adapted for the screen by Gershe. It was released on 6 July 1972 in the USA.
Goldie Hawn and Edward Albert starred. Eileen Heckart received an Academy Award for her performance.
While the original play was set in Manhattan, New York, the screenplay written for the 1972 film was set in an unknown location in San Francisco.
In the San Francisco of the 1970s, Don Baker (Edward Albert), who was born blind, has lived all his life with his mother (Eileen Heckart). Don moves out into an apartment on his own, but Don finds himself all alone. He has made a contract that his mother will not come to see him for at least two months.
One month has passed. This is when Jill Tanner (Goldie Hawn) moves into an apartment next door to Don. She listens to Don talking to his mother over the phone and turns on the radio. When Don asks her to turn the volume down, she invites herself over for a cup of coffee. They start talking and find each other friendly. Jill does not realize that Don is blind until she sees him dropping his cigarette ash on the table. Jill has never met a blind man before, so she asks all sorts of questions about how Don manages everyday chores. She tells Don that her favorite quote is: "I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not deny to Harold Skimpole what it concedes to the butterflies." (From Dickens' "Bleak House"). She takes him out shopping to buy bohemian and free-spirited clothing. Back home, Don makes up a song and starts to sing "Butterflies are Free" on his guitar. They discover they can unlock the door separating their two apartments.
Surprising Don with a visit, Mrs. Baker sees that Don has attached himself to Jill. She also encounters them in the apartment partially undressed. She fears that Jill will break Don's heart. She takes Jill out for a lunch and tries to talk her out of Don's life. Jill has strong feelings for Don and tells Mrs. Baker that if there is someone who should get out of Don's life, it is she.
Jill later breaks a dinner date at Don's apartment bringing Ralph (Michael Glaser) the director of the play she has auditioned for, and announces, hesitantly, that she will move in with him. Don is heartbroken and asks his mother if he can move back home. She talks him out of it and they finally make peace over their new roles in life. Jill and Don fight over her moving out, and Don tells her she is the one who is disabled. She leaves but returns to Don, and the two reconcile.Goldie Hawn as Jill Tanner
Edward Albert as Don Baker
Eileen Heckart as Mrs. Baker
Paul Michael Glaser (billed as Michael Glaser) as Ralph
Michael Warren as Roy Stratton
When the film opened in the U.S., it was an instant success. Variety wrote: "Although the setting has been changed from New York to San Francisco for no apparent reason, Leonard Gershe's screen adaptation of his successful Broadway play is an excellent example of how to switch from one medium to another." The review further praises the acting of Goldie Hawn, saying: "Hawn, funny and touching, is a delight throughout and Heckart gets a film role that enables her to display versatility."
Time magazine pointed out the talent of Goldie Hawn, saying: "Goldie Hawn, as the girl next door, has come a long way from her giddy role in Laugh-In; she is often genuinely touching." Time praised the acting of both Edward Albert and Eileen Heckart: "Edward Albert, the son of Actor Edward Albert, is creditable as the blind boy, and Eileen Heckart is appropriately hateful as the mother, although she is unable to be convincing in her transformation. But then nobody could be."Best Supporting Actress – Eileen Heckart – 1972 Academy Awards
Most Promising Newcomer – Male – Edward Albert – 1973 Golden Globe Awards
Best Sound – Arthur Piantadosi and Charles T. Knight – 1972 Academy Awards
Best Cinematography – Charles B. Lang – 1972 Academy Awards
Best Original Song – Bob Alcivar – 1972 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Best Picture – Musical or Comedy – 1972 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy – Goldie Hawn – 1972 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy – Edward Albert – 1972 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium – Leonard Gershe – 1973 – Writers Guild of America
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2002: AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – Nominated