Directed by: Dario Argento
Cast: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno
For the unaware, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was legendary Italian filmmaker, Dario Argento’s debut picture. Initially, investors feared the film would fail, a direct result of the unorthodox manner in which it’s shot, and the almost ambiguous tone of the movie. Today we recognize it as one of the giallo sub-genre’s defining films, and an obvious proper fit with the horror genre. In 1970, hybrid films weren’t typical, and that left the money men feeling anxious as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage slowly trickled into cinemas (to initially lukewarm reception). To be fair to those who harbored concerns, it did take a handful of screenings in Italy to get fans talking. The movie wasn’t an overnight success, but when it eventually gained traction in some of Italy’s larger cities, it took off.
Eventually, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage arrived stateside, and hardcore horror followers enjoyed the film, though it didn’t earn recognition as a classic for a number of years, when the giallo sub really began to steal American hearts in the 1980s. Today, viewing the work of a fresh, young and inspired Argento feels amazing. The man knew how to assemble a film, and the risks that he was so happy to tackle in the earliest stages of his career eventually became staples. This is a feature that showcases the Argento staples we adore.
As for The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, it’s everything you love about giallo, and it follows a struggling writer looking to escape Italy and make his way back to the states. But before he can get his rear end in a plane, he stumbles upon a crime in progress: from the look of it, a woman is being stabbed by a masked intruder. Sam shows his courage and makes an attempt to save the woman. The killer flees in the process and Sam manages to ensure law officials are called to the scene. The woman, as it turns out, survives, but Sam gets wrapped up in the case, letting the details cloud his every thought. It probably need not be said, but he doesn’t end up on that flight headed to America. Instead, he finds himself in Italy working alongside police to locate and bring the would-be (and eventual) murderer to justice. But there are an assortment of issues that pop up, ensuring that Sam isn’t just emotionally invested in the case, his physical health, and the health of his girl, Julia are also on the line.
If you’ve seen Argento’s earlier productions, like The Cat o’ Nine Tails, Four Flies on Grey Velvet and Deep Red, then you’ll find you’re very familiar with the style of story – both from a written stance as well as a visual – as all four flicks are similar in tone and presentation. Argento’s work became increasingly more graphic and chilling as the first few decades of his career unraveled, and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is actually among his most tame works – a direct result of the time and stricter censorship – but it holds its own among Argento’s other classics. Even without the graphic shots of violence and fair dosage of nudity that serve as giallo staples, there’s still a genuine eeriness and effectiveness to the film. The fact that Arrow Films has now presented the picture in a stunning new Blu-ray with a brilliant hi-def restoration and some amazing bonus supplements is just the icing on a cake you really, really want to devour.
The last 20 years haven’t been good to Argento. His recent efforts lack the style and wit of his best-known pictures, so it’s always nice returning to Argento’s professional prime. This particular Arrow release is exceptional on all fronts, and it’s not just because it’s a stellar film with moving performances from the vulnerable yet heroic duo that is Sam and Julia (performed by Tony Musante and Suzy Kendall, respectively), it’s because the movie has never looked or sounded so amazing. I own more than a single version of this film, but this is the only one I’ll be inclined to return to on a regular basis.
The limited edition Blu-ray is officially OOP, but you can snag the movie on DVD, which we highly recommend!