on August 27, 1999
There are two types of Dario Argento films: those after "Four Flies on Grey Velvet" (excluding "The Five Days of Milan," which was never released in the U.S.) and those before it. "The Bird With the Crystal Plumage," Argento's first film, belongs to the category of the before and includes the noticeable differences between the two. While the entire body of Argento's work is something to admire, his first three films are surprisingly well-plotted, given Argento's notorious lack of interest in matters of narrative structure. "Bird" begins with Sam Dalmas, an American writer living in Rome, witnessing an attempted murder in an art gallery. Though he is unable to do anything, his fortuitous arrival saves the victim from almost certain death. His passport confiscated and at first held as a suspect, Sam is told by the police that this is the fourth attack in one month. The only difference is, the victim, a beautiful woman named Monica Ranieri, was the first to survive. Troubled by the idea that he saw something that didn't quite fit, he soon begins his own investigation, putting both his life and the life of his girlfriend at great risk. Several attempts are made on their lives, and everytime Sam is able to learn of someone who might be able to help him, that person is murdered. Finally, in a double-twist ending, Argento reveals the identity of the killer in a cleverly constructed manner. A pure delight from start to finish, "Bird With the Crystal Plumage" is one of the most entertaining (if minimal) thrillers since Hitchcock. Another attribute is Argento's knack for always creating a cast of wonderfully offbeat characters. Be sure to catch Inspector Morosini's exclamation regarding the "perverts" in the line-up sequence. Black humor is equally interwoven with generous amounts of suspense to create a fast-paced and clever mystery/thriller.
I really couldn't tell you why I have yet to watch every film in Dario Argento's filmography. A few years ago it was easy to claim ignorance of many of this Italian director's important works because it was often so difficult to find any of them in an uncut form. Fortunately, DVD arrived on the scene and salivating film fans with dollars to spend prodded numerous companies to start churning out any movie they could get their hands on to satiate the masses. It wasn't too long before practically every Argento film arrived on store shelves, with many of these releases being the uncut, unrated editions. Even Troma, the flagship of flaccid filmmaking, released a so-so version of Argento's "The Stendhal Syndrome." People outside of the world of Italian horror cinema have most likely never heard of Dario Argento, unfortunately. These days, more people are familiar with the director's beautiful daughter Asia than with the horror maestro himself. What a shame. Argento's films, at least the ones I have seen, are masterpieces of style injected with truly cringe inducing gore. And to think it all started in earnest with this engaging Hitchcockian thriller, "The Bird With the Crystal Plumage." Argento and his fans never looked back, but this is an apt starting point for those unfamiliar with this director's work.
An American reporter staying in Rome witnesses a truly shattering event one evening when he sees a gruesome assault takes place inside of an art gallery. Barred from interfering with the proceedings due to huge sliding glass doors, Sam Dalmas can only look on with horror as two figures, one clad entirely in black and the other a woman, struggle with each other over a very shiny knife. The person in black flees the scene of the crime, leaving behind the hapless woman with a knife wound to the abdomen. When Dalmas does his duty by calling in the police, his story leads the officers to cast a doubtful eye on the concerned American. The police insist that Sam stay in Rome until the investigation turns up some clues, much to the consternation of Dalmas and his pretty girlfriend Julia. It seems that Sam was planning to leave Rome, but all bets are off as more murders occur that the police suspect are linked to the crime seen by Dalmas. Moreover, Julia and Sam start receiving grim phone calls from an unknown person who almost certainly is the figure behind these crimes. Our hero is in a real fix, with his only supporters being his woman and a friend who works at a museum. At least the cops start to come over to his side as the bodies pile up, especially once they listen to those eerie phone calls. A unique sound in the background of one of these calls provides the break Dalmas needs to identify the killer he saw on that fateful night. The conclusion has more twists and turns than a cyclone.
"The Bird With the Crystal Plumage" helped inaugurate the era of the Italian giallo (Italian for yellow), so named because in Italy cheap paperback crime novels came with yellow covers. These are the films with the anonymous, black-gloved killers toting gruesome looking knives while stalking their mostly female prey. The crimes are often seen from the point of view of the killer, giving the audience the impression that they are part of the heinous murders. Argento plays the giallo for all its worth here, matching this disturbing technique with a great score by the inestimable Ennio Morricone and camera work rarely seen in the horror genre. The cinematography here is simply divine, with the director including a shot from the point of view of a man falling from a tall building and an ultra cool scene where the camera points at a lighted doorway from inside a darkened room. All these elements combine to make this film a taut thriller of enormously entertaining dimensions. Moreover, of the few Argento films I have seen to date, "The Bird With the Crystal Plumage" contains one of his most coherent plotlines.
Gorehounds might find themselves a bit disappointed with the lack of the trademark Argento gore (no sharp corners to bash a head against here!) in this movie, but the stellar camera work, truly creepy scenes of murder and mayhem, and the strong performances from Tony Musante as Sam Dalmas and Suzy Kendall in the Julia role more than make up for the 'PG' rating. Still, that rating made me wonder a bit about what the people at the MPAA were thinking when they viewed this picture. There is upsetting violence here, along with some truly disturbing scenes that hint at where Argento would go in the future. The way the killer caresses those weird looking blades (one of which, I am almost certain, appeared in a later Argento film called "Deep Red") and the participatory effect the audience feels during the killings makes you wonder how this movie got off with such a mundane rating.
The DVD version of "The Bird With the Crystal Plumage" is strictly bare bones: you get the film and a trailer, which is good considering its relative obscurity but could have been better. As others have said, the audio is quite muzzy at times and the picture quality isn't anything to write home to mother about. After viewing this picture and a couple of other Argento films, I must say I really enjoy how these movies mess with your mind. Just when you think you know what's going on, good old Dario throws another curveball. He does this in many of his films, but he does it here for the first time. What a joy it is to watch it today!
on January 3, 2002
THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE
[L'Uccello dalle Piume di Cristallo]
(Italy/W.Germany - 1969)
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 (Cromoscope)
Theatrical soundtrack: Mono
Even those who don't care for writer-director Dario Argento's later baroque extravaganzas may warm to his debut feature, a well-received thriller in which an American writer living in Rome (Tony Musante) witnesses an assault on a woman in an art gallery and is subsequently targeted by the would-be assassin, a crazed psychopath who's been terrorizing the city with a series of brutal murders. Typical of an Argento thriller, the hapless hero's investigation unleashes a cycle of violence which culminates in a climactic unmasking that will take some viewers completely by surprise.
Loosely inspired by Fredric Brown's novel 'The Screaming Mimi' (filmed under that title in 1958), Argento's first film is a fairly straightforward thriller with horror asides, anchored by a strong narrative, an increasingly bizarre series of supporting characters, and a strong Everyman hero who slots the puzzle together piece by piece before realizing that the most important clue to the killer's identity was there in front of him all the time. Musante is given excellent support by English actress Suzy Kendall as his girlfriend (the scene in which she's besieged alone in her apartment as the killer hacks through the door with a knife is truly the stuff of nightmares) and Enrico Maria Salerno as the cop charged with finding the killer before he/she strikes again.
Despite Argento's prior screenwriting credits, including significant contributions to the script of Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1969), producers were unconvinced of his directorial abilities and wanted to pull him off the picture during the first few weeks of shooting, but Argento persevered under an iron-clad contract and ultimately proved his critics wrong with the finished product, a genuinely engrossing mystery punctuated by scenes of explicit horror.
The film puts a late-1960s Italian spin on the kind of movie that Hitchcock had already popularized in America, and is leavened with the same kind of uproarious humor: Salerno gets the best line of dialogue during a police line-up when he despairs: "How many times do I have to tell you? Ursula Andress belongs with the transvestites, not the perverts!" And later, an outrageously camp antiques dealer offers a jaw-dropping description of one of the killer's former victims: "It was said she preferred women. I couldn't care less - I'm no racist, for heaven's sake!" Briskly edited by Franco Fraticelli, and featuring a brief appearance from distinctive character actor Reggie Nalder (MARK OF THE DEVIL, SALEM'S LOT) as an assassin-for-hire, "Bird" is arguably Argento's warmest, most humane thriller until TENEBRAE in 1982.
on September 29, 2013
This review is for the new Blu-Ray release of this film by VCI. Like a few other unfortunate Eurohorror aficionados, I missed out on the Blue Underground release of this film, and it is now out of stock. This new Blu ray has great picture quality that almost makes the film look new! However, unlike the BU release, the only supplemental features are two trailers for the film. If you've got $70+ burning a whole in your pocket, I'd say to get the BU Bluray because the picture is slightly better and there are many more features. If you don't have that kind of money, the VCI release is bare bones, but it'll get the job done. As far as the film, I'd say it's Dario Argento's giallo masterpiece. It's even better than Deep Red! The kills are awesome, the cinematography is a pleasure to watch, and the story is quite interesting. Every horror fan needs this in their collection!
on July 25, 2015
Just to preface this review, I buy a lot of horror films on blu ray. I will buy anything from Shout Factory (which I highly recommend any blu Rays from) and Italian Horror cinema (especially Giallo) are my favorite. Hence why Argento films on blu ray are always on my radar. I own Deep Red and these come out great. So, when I saw Bird with a Crystal Plumage available on blu ray I bought it and just began watching it last night. Wow what a bummer.
First off this is a horrible print. It's not clean but very snowy. There was no attempt to find a good print or clean print. It almost looks like it was pushed from a vhs copy, it's that bad. Also, it's a edited version which does this film no justice.
So, if ur wanting a good copy of this film,
on February 28, 2007
For many years, I'd felt that of the Argento films I'd seen, Deep Red (Profundo Roso) was easily my favorite. However, recently I ordered - on DVD - that movie, Suspiria, Inferno, and Bird Witb a Crystal Plumage. And while I'm glad to have all four in my collection, I've concluded that - at least for the time being - Bird has become my top choice, which surprises me.
Bird really benefits from the increased production values of DVD over VHS (I've owned a copy for the past decade): the cinematography (thank you, Vittorio Storaro & crew) is astounding. There are times when I feel like I can reach right out and touch buildings, foliage, people. It's that visually tactile. Also, the film is very tight. Little, if any, wasted space - and it's a talky picture, too. Fortunately, a good chunk of the dialogue is funny, sometimes hilarious (check out the scene when protagonist Tony Musante visits a painter whose work looks to be a significant clue in a series of mysterious murders that Musante is investigating in tandem with the police).
The mystery's a good one, too. And the use of repetition works like repeated motifs/actions should: a fascinating revelation of the process of memory - and how we may construct and reconstruct events through it. Though Bird's use of repetition looks something like DePalma's Blow Out (released over a decade later than Bird), it has more in common with that other late '60s enigmatic masterwork, Blow Up.
We also benefit from an imaginative musical soundtrack by the recent lifetime Academy Award winner, Ennio Morricone, who scored several of Argento's earliest efforts, including Four Flies on Grey Velvet (where has that gone?) and Cat o' Nine Tails. While I enjoy the pulsing, thrashing musics of Goblin in Deep Red and Suspiria, Morricone's pieces are more surprising and impishly playful - in much the same way Argento plays with us - including his use of a false ending.
Okay, so it's his first major direction. And the dubbing into English is, well, dubbing into English. But the suspense builds and builds, intelligently, leaving this viewer more than satisfied - after repeated screenings. If you're into Argento and you've overlooked this one, please get with it! And if you're a newcomer to this horror/mystery master, this is an excellent place to start. And do see it on DVD.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is not particularly gory, but it does establish a blueprint for most of Dario Argento's later work, with the crucial misunderstood attempted murder both referencing Antonioni's Blow-Up and prefiguring the killer-in-plain-sight twist of Deep Red. Best of all is Argento's mastery of vivid color and the Scope frame (the gallery window is even designed at an exact 2.35:1 to match the screen ratio). It still lacks the bravura and panache that would distinguish Deep Red, Suspiria and Inferno, and the best that can be said of the performances is that they don't get in the way: Tony Musante's hero and Mario Adorf's cameo as a cat-eating artist pass muster, as does Enrico Maria Salerno, the Italian voice of Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone's westerns (the perverse side of my nature thought Eastwood could at least have returned the compliment by dubbing him into English), but Suzy Kendall definitely looks better than she acts and some of the supporting cast pull out most of the stops. Still how can you not love a film with lines like "How many times do I have to tell you, Ursula Andress belongs with the transvestites, not the perverts!"
Blue Underground's new DVD is some 30 seconds longer than the previous VCI issue and boasts superb picture quality and a choice of English or Italian tracks (it was shot in English, as per all of Argento's films). The extras aren't plentiful enough to justify a second disc - some 47 minutes of interviews, including an inadvertently revealing one by Eva Renzi pretty much badmouthing anyone who ever offered her a part for destroying her career - but if you don't have the film it's worth picking up for the remastering alone.
on September 25, 2004
Ever buy a widescreen movie and wonder if its true ws aspect? Even though it has the black strips at top and bottom something is very amiss with this print. The credits cannot be read as they run off the screen on one side or the other or both. The movie itself deserves four stars but while watching, it is evident thats its not ws ratio. Hopefully someone, perhaps Anchor Bay can give us the real deal.
on July 27, 2015
I have a fine appreciation for the cinematography, the imagery throughout is excellent. I also loved the weird untraditional score by Ennio Morricone (which is included on the DVD). The story was absorbing although a tad confusing, what police department would allow a complete amateur to snoop around on his own, not always mindful of the information he was gleaning, like it was a game. Not to mention putting himself and his girlfriend at risk, all because he couldn't remember a certain detail of the `attempted' murder he witnessed. He also failed to mention two attempts on his life; definitely a careless omission. That's the only aspect of this movie that doesn't really work for me, the casting of Tony Musante as the bored writer/sleuth Sam Dalmas. He was less a hero, more a grandstanding nitwit. Everyone else though, fit right in with the murderous intrigue. Other than that, it's an incredible achievement for a first time director (Argento). I'm very happy to add this taut thriller to my growing collection of Argento films.
on January 23, 2011
This blu-ray was discontinued months ago by Blue-Underground and is simply no longer available through normal distribution channels. Amazon has been listing this as "temporarily out of stock" and taking orders for well over a month: it simply is NOT available! Amazon needs to update their listing for this blu-ray.