In Dario Argento's first giallo, 1970's The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is an American writer who is currently living in Rome with his beautiful girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall). When he's on his way home after socializing with a friend one night, he heads out into the streets and along the way, completely be chance, he witnesses an attempted murder on the beautiful wife of an art gallery owner.
Sam is unable to get inside to save her though, as he gets stuck in between a set of glass doors. All he is able to do is watch the woman suffer and hope that someone can call the police to the scene in time to save her. When he finds out that the woman has survived, the police tell him that she is actually just one of a few recent victims of a serial killer that has been operating in the area. Unfortunately though, none of the other victims survived. The killer, a man dressed in a black raincoat and of course, a pair of black leather gloves, makes it out before the cops can be called in and much to Sam's dismay, remains on the loose.
The Rome police force, led by Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno of The Execution Squad), means well, but has so far been unable to come up with any solid leads on the case. This inspires Sam, who has had his passport confiscated by the police until they're one hundred percent positive that he has nothing to do with the killings, to do a little detective work on his own. He hopes to be able to clear his name and bring the killer to justice, killing two birds with one stone. Oddly enough, Morosini seems perfectly fine with this, which is really the one key issue in the film where we have to suspend our disbelief a bit.
Regardless, Sam soon gets to work and tracks down a few consequential clues on his own and slowly begins piecing the puzzle together one bit at a time. His investigation takes him from an antique dealer's shop to the art gallery where the murder attempt occurred. From there, after getting word from an informant, he heads to a remote villa outside of the city, much to Julia's dismay. His plan is to talk to a reclusive artist who was responsible for creating an odd painting that seems to be somehow connected to the killer. Unfortunately for Sam, with the killer still at large, he's got his work cut out for him and the longer it takes him to solve the case, the more victims fall dead on the streets of Rome...
Like most of Dario Argento's films, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage is a stylish and beautifully photographed film with plenty of fluid camera movements and unusual, colorful lighting. The recurring theme of an artist involved in a murder mystery that we see here is also another familiar aspect of his work that would turn up in many of his others films, most notably in both Deep Red and Suspiria. While some of his films verge on the bizarre and even toy around with surrealism at times (Inferno comes to mind), this one is a more accessible and straightforward murder mystery. As such, the film makes for a good starting point for those who are unfamiliar with his work. It proves to be entertaining while at the same time laying down a lot of the groundwork for some of his more impressive but unusual films that would follow this early entry in his filmography.
The influence of Alfred Hitchcock is all over this film, from the set up to the emphasis on murder to the red herrings and twist ending. Argento has never denied how the master of suspense influenced his work and The Bird With The Crystal Plumage wears that influence proudly on its sleeve. Although the film isn't as flamboyant as some of his other work the cinematography from Vittorio Storaro (who semi-recently handled Dominion: A Prequel To The Exorcist but is probably best known for his work on Apocalypse Now) has got plenty of style. In fact, the movie looks absolutely gorgeous. It has more than enough flair to ensure that the film looks a million times better than your average modestly budgeted thriller. A fantastic and evocative score by the legendary Ennio Morricone doesn't hurt things either and the movie has got atmosphere to spare even if it isn't breaking a lot of new ground in terms of storytelling or narrative technique. Performance wise, Salerno makes for a great cop, playing the role with that kind of gruff, tough quality that makes him such a likeable supporting player in many Italian genre films of the era. Musante and Kendall are fine in the lead roles, playing their parts with style. No one in the movie turns in would most would consider to be star making material, but what they deliver is definitely enough to keep the movie going. The instantly identifiable Reggie Nalder also has a small supporting role here as a would be assassin, while Eurocult regular Mario Adorf also pops up in the picture in a modest but interesting part.The Blu-ray:
Arrow Video presents The Bird With The Crystal Plumage on a 50GB Blu-ray disc framed at 2.35.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition taken from a new 4k scan of the original 35mm negative and it looks fantastic. Detail is consistently impressive as is texture and depth while the film's color scheme is reproduced beautifully throughout (those reds really look great, they pop without looking oversaturated). Skin tones appear lifelike and natural throughout, never too pink or too orange, while black levels are pretty much perfect. The image is free of any obvious crush and shadow detail is rock solid. The film maintains a natural amount of film grain, as it should, and there's no obvious noise reduction or smoothing to note. Additionally the picture appears free of edge enhancement or artificial sharpening. As far as print damage goes, there's virtually none here to note, the transfer is remarkably clean from start to finish. This is, by all standards, a very impressive and wonderfully film-like presentation of a beautifully shot movie that really takes advantage of the format.Sound:
Audio options are provided in both English and Italian language DTS-HD Mono tracks. English subtitles are provided for the Italian track while an English closed captioning option is provided for the English track. No complaints here, both tracks sound clean, clear and properly balanced. The score really benefits from the lossless audio treatment, it has quite a bit of power behind it but never buries the dialogue in the mix. Sound effects have good punch to them as well. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion to note. Both tracks sound great.Extras:
Extras start off with a commentary track from Troy Howarth, the author of giallo book So Deadly, So Perverse. This is an interesting and quickly paced track loaded with plenty of information delivered in an amiable and casual tone that makes it worth listening too. Howarth does a nice job of laying out the importance of this film in Argento's career and making some interesting and apt comparisons to the director's other work by exploring some of the themes in the picture. He also delivers plenty of interesting facts and trivia about those who worked in front of and behind the camera on this production.
From there we get a few new featurettes, starting with The Power Of Perception which is a new visual essay on the films of Dario Argento delivered by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, the author of Devil's Advocates: Suspiria And Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study. Over the course of this twenty-one minute long segment, we get an examination of how the murder scenes tie in specifically to the depiction of female characters in the film. That might sound a bit pretentious but this is actually quite an involved and interesting reading of one of the more controversial and often discussed angles of Argento's cinema. Also included here is a new analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger entitled Black Gloves And Screaming Mimis, a thirty-two minute piece wherein Ms. Ellinger compares Argento's picture to the novel The Screaming Mimi by Frederic Brown. There's emphasis here on the more voyeuristic aspects of Argento's cinema and how they tie into some of the more prominent themes in his work as well as how they tie into Brown's story. Interesting stuff. Argento himself shows up in a thirty-one minute piece called Crystal Nightmare. In this piece he talks about the inspiration that he took from the aforementioned novel, how his film producer father helped him to get this directorial debut made, some of his influences, why the picture bears the title that it has and quite a bit more. Also exclusive to this release is a new interview with actor Gildo Di Marco (who played the pimp in the film) called An Argento Icon. Over the span of twenty-two minutes he talks about his work on this picture as well as on Four Flies On Grey Velvet, along the way sharing stories about how he got into the film business, some of the other actor's that he has worked with over the years, and quite a bit more.
Carried over from the last Blu-ray release, Eva's Talking is an eleven minute interview with the late Eva Renzi who played Monica in the film. Recorded shortly before she passed away this very year, this is another spoiler filled featurette that gives us a look at the movie from a performer's point of view and it's also the only one conducted in English. She talks about how pressure from her husband affected some of the career choices that she made after working with Orson Welles. She covers some interesting psychological aspects of the movie, how you could interpret some of the murders as exploitative of women, how her character is basically a victim of male abuse in the film but at the same time, she acknowledges that she's grateful to have worked with Dario, how in real life he was pleasant to work with and very civil to her at all times even going so far as to describe him as very sensitive. Her comments about Tony aren't quite as kind, and she describes him as quite self-involved despite the fact that she found him very attractive and charming.
Arrow has also included the option to watch the movie with English or Italian language opening and closing credits via seamless branching (a nice touch). Rounding out the extras on the disc are international (English) and Italian theatrical trailers, a new 2017 Texas Frightmare trailer, menus and chapter selection.
In addition to the great presentation of the movie, it's also worth mentioning the packaging. Both discs fit inside a clear Blu-ray sized keepcase that in turn fits inside a gorgeous (and sturdy) cardboard sideways slipcover. Also contained inside the slip is a full color booklet containing credits for the feature and the Blu-ray disc as well as writing on the film by Michael Mackenzie, Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook. Alongside this we also get a replica of the film's original North American one sheet with the newly created cover art for this release on the reverse, and a set of six postcard sized lobby card reproductions. On top of that, Arrow has also provided a reversible cover sleeve for the keepcase with the newly created painting on one side and the original Italian poster art on the flipside.Final Thoughts:
The Bird With The Crystal Plumage remains one of the most influential of the Italian giallos, a very well-paced and effective chiller that holds up very well to repeat viewings. Arrow's completely uncut high definition transfer is a true thing of beauty and the superlative audio and video quality along with a wealth of interesting and informative extra features make this release difficult to pass up. Highly recommended.