The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970)
By: Julian on July 10, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Umbrella Entertainment (Australia), Region 4, NTSC. 2:35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0, Italian DDl 2.0, English subtitles. 96 minutes.
The Movie
Director: Dario Argento
Starring: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi, Umberto Raho
Screenplay: Dario Argento
Country: Italy
External Links
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When looking at his career peak, I consider Dario Argento among the greatest filmmakers Italy has ever produced, on a par with Fellini, Antonioni, Pasolini and Bertolucci. Horror fans especially can be full of superlatives when it comes to describing Argento's canon, particularly pre-1985. However it's Argento's seventies features that made him such an important figure in the horror genre. These films, known as gialli (translating to 'yellows', which described the colour of the paperback pulp thrillers that were popular in the fifties and sixties), made up the bulk of Italy's horror output before Fulci and D'Amato gore took over, and was the genre in which Dario Argento began his career. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was the first of his 'Animal' trilogy, the startling debut feature of an individual who single-handedly redefined the nation's outlook on horror cinema.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage introduces Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante), an American novelist who is staying in Italy with his on/off girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall). Taking a stroll in the dead of night, Sam witnesses a woman being stabbed in an art gallery and, desperate to help, he calls the police. The woman survives and Sam is immediately held suspect – it becomes clear, though, that she is the only surviving victim of a vicious serial killer, who has been haunting the cobblestone streets for a number of weeks. When Sam attempts to help the police in their slow-moving investigations, he receives a number of threatening phone calls and has a number of attempts made on his life. Despite this, Sam is adamant to continue the search and as murders continue in the city, the author feels ever closer to revealing the killer's identity.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage could perhaps be considered a quintessential giallo picture alongside Argento's 1975 opus Deep Red, which could rank amongst the finest horror pictures ever filmed. Argento's distinctive style, which would become increasingly evident and almost exaggerated in the early eighties, is subdued and sublime here – the black gloved hands of the murderer (Dario's own), swirling Bavaesque cinematography and some brutally funny sequences (see the yellow-coated assassin, Argento at his blackly comic best).

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is among the least violent of Argento's films, and its MA15+ rating could be considered excessive. He uses violence very judiciously here, satisfied with showing only a squirt of blood on pure white or some quasi-fluorescent red drops on a wooden floor. But, as with the majority of Argento gialli, the average gorehound couldn't sit down and dig it – Bird is a deft blend of MacGuffins and red herrings: the smallest thing could have the most profound impact in the scheme of things, and what could seem inherently significant really isn't anything at all. Indeed, the titular animal has a minor role in the picture's closing minutes, but is essential in enabling the puzzle to come together. And, unsatisfied with a paltry twist ending, Dario's increasingly intelligent script fields the audience a double mind-bender and, as with Deep Red, Argento mocks the audience in his reveal – we really should, and could, have seen it coming. But we don't, which is what makes Bird such a clever film. In some respects, Dario Argento took over from Mario Bava when the latter's output dwindled in the seventies. In Bird, Bava's brooding aesthetic is evident, punctuated by an ever-growing feeling of dread, and Argento is talented enough to pull this off without it feeling recycled.

If you're new to gialli, or new to Argento, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage may not be the best place to start – in 1970, Argento was still refining the skills that became nuanced and effortless in Deep Red five years later. However, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a terrific picture, certainly one of Dario's best, and horror fans would really get where the young director is coming from cinematically. Highly recommended. 
The picture's great for a horror film of this age. It's presented in 2:35:1 with 16:9 enhancement and while a few dull, smoky scenes are to be expected, the colours are generally bright and vibrant, and it makes all the difference. Roman cinematographer Vittorio Storaro puts in an excellent bit of work here, and he is best known for his work for Bertolucci and lensing Apocalypse Now
Two audio tracks, English and Italian, both in Dolby Digital 2.0. As always, the original-language Italian track comes recommended by this reviewer. Scoring duties are courtesy of one Mr Ennio Morricone, one of the greatest film musicians alive, and his score was lifted for a sequence in Quentin Tarantino's recent neo-exploitation film Death Proof. The scene in Death Proof that Morricone's music scored will also be familiar to fans of Bird. Bruno Nicolai, composer for some of the music in Tinto Brass' Caligula, is credited as a conductor for this picture.
Extra Features
Lots of trailers, including TV spots, international trailers and Italian trailers, as well as ones for other Umbrella releases Black Sunday, Cat o' Nine Tails, Phantom of the Opera and The Crazies. The highlight, though it has appeared on every Argento release from Umbrella, is a sixty-minute retrospective on Dario Argento, titled An Eye for Horror. It's an insightful doco, with some great information on the maestro and interviews with other horror icons, including Tom Savini and George Romero.

It would have been nice to see some Bird-exclusive features on this disc, but Umbrella has nevertheless compiled a very good release for Region 4.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
The big, bad, homicidal seventies; Dario; and an all-too-real villain – is I in heaven? The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a sensational giallo picture that Umbrella has treated with genuine respect for its Region 4 debut. While Argento's film may be underwhelming for those brought up on a diet of Suspirian flashiness, Bird is a masterful exercise in suspense that has aged very well.

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