The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

Studio: Arrow Video

Jun 29, 2017 Web Exclusive
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When Dario Argento broke onto the film scene with 1970’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, he not only elevated the giallo – Italian slasher – to new levels, but changed the way that Italian horror would be viewed abroad. Argento brought an eye-grabbing visual style to the genre, taking it from something cheap but satisfying to something rich and multi-layered. Before Argento, the spaghetti horror flick was Ragu and meatballs. After, it was lasagne alla Bolognese.

Hot blooded American writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is adrift in Rome, penning a for-hire birdwatchers’ manual to earn the paycheck he needs to fly himself and his model girlfriend (Suzy Kendall) back to the States. Before they can depart, Sam has the severe misfortune of witnessing an attempted homicide through the front windows of a high-end art gallery. As one of the crime’s only eyewitnesses, his travel is delayed by the Italian police, who waste no time looping him into their investigation. Quickly Sam finds himself hooked on his own search for the truth, linking together a series of supposedly unrelated murders of young beauties, and unintentionally becoming the next target on the killer’s murder list.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage isn’t the most procedural of thrillers; Sam pieces together the mystery mostly through dumb luck and leaps in logic. (The urgency with which the police make him their de facto junior homicide detective, and how forthcoming they are in giving case details to a potential suspect, is pretty hilarious after decades of Law and Order and its ilk.) The source material was written in 1949 – Bird is an uncredited adaptation of Fredric Brown’s Screaming Mimi – and its pulp heritage shows through. The cleverness factor of the whodunit isn’t Bird’s appeal, however – it’s the style that Argento brought to the feature, and with that, to Italian horror cinema. While not nearly as violent as his later work, the movie shares more in common with classy, critically-adored filmmakers like Antonioni or Hitchcock than the grindhouse-ready fare of Fulci or Bava. It’s not as colorful as his later masterpieces are famous for being, either, but the way in which Argento plays with composition and point of view here are above and beyond what theater-goers were used to seeing at the time.

Arrow Video’s limited edition Blu-ray/DVD release of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is the total package, housed in an elegant slipcase and nearly bursting with bonus matter. Chief among these is a 60-page, fully-illustrated booklet full of essays on the film; also included are a double-sided poster featuring the Blu-ray artwork and the movie’s original one-sheet, and postcard-sized reproductions of Bird’s Italian lobby cards. On the discs themselves the extra features keep going and going. We have a new, lengthy interview with Argento about the genesis of the film, and video analyses of his work and themes by critics Kat Ellinger and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas. Giallo scholar Troy Howarth provides an audio commentary, and an interview with actor Gildo Di Marco (who has a minor but memorable role as tic-inflicted pimp) makes its debut here alongside an archival interview with the late Eva Renzi. Visually, the film looks fantastic in its new 4K restoration, which corrects the aspect ratio from its previous release. (There’s a lot of film grain, but that’s what fans have come to expect from Euro horror flicks of this era.) Finally, viewers have the option to watch the movie in its well-known English dub, or the original Italian version. Ennio Morricone’s thematic score is done justice with clean audio in both options.

For Argento fans, fans of giallos, or followers of Italian horror on a broader scale, Arrow Video’s take on The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is essential. Let’s hope it’s a big success and leads to their importing more of Argento’s catalog in editions this deluxe. 


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