The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

05/06/2017 10:22

Film: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo)

Year: 1970

Director: Dario Argento

Writer: Dario Argento

Starring: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall and Enrico Maria Salerno



This film is an interesting one for me. I think might be the second ever Dario Argento film that I have seen. I know my first was Suspiria and then I believe this one was next. This would also be an early foray into the gialli subgenre. I’ve now seen this one a handful of times. I know once was for the TPUTS Collective with Where to Begin with Giallo. I’ve also seen this twice in the theater, once at the Gateway Film Center and then another time at the Wexner Center for the Arts.

Synopsis: An American expatriate in Rome sees an attempted murder. He learns later that it’s connected to an ongoing murder spree in the city and decides to do his own investigation, despite being personally targeted by the killer.

As the synopsis states, our American writer in Italy is Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante). He came here because he was having trouble writing and a friend recommended it would be good for him. Since coming he has published a book and will be returning to the United States with his girlfriend. He is given his final check from his friend Professor Carlo Dover (Renato Romano).

On his way home he is passing an art gallery and he happens to look over. He sees a struggle between a woman in a white outfit and someone in a black coat and hat. There’s a knife involved and we watch as the cloaked figure stabs her. Sam crosses the street and tries to get into the gallery. The person flees, but he hits a button locking Sam out of the gallery. It also prevents him from leaving with another glass door. The woman who was attacked is Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi). She is bleeding out while Sam watches. He does get a passerby to call the police.

The inspector in charge of the investigation is Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno). He seems suspicious of Sam to start. Their first interrogation is done at the gallery. The good news is Monica survived as it was just a flesh wound. Her husband shows up, Alberto (Umberto Raho) and he is distraught at what happened. He says that she came up to do the books on the gallery and he was coming to pick her up. Inspector Morosini finds a leather glove that belonged to the killer.

Sam is taken to the police station where the interrogation continues, but they conclude that he isn’t the assailant. There have been three other attacks and it is a pattern. Inspector Mororini believes there is part of what he saw that he doesn’t remember. He takes Sam’s passport to get his help in this investigation. Sam then cancels his flight back to America.

He is released and it is foggy out. He hasn’t slept and he turns the corner to walk down another sidewalk. An old woman screams for him to watch out and Sam ducks. He is being followed and the person tried to decapitate him with a large knife. He chases after the killer, but he disappears in the fog. When the woman asks if he is okay, he plays it off, but he’s shaken.

Sam returns home to Julia (Suzy Kendall). He decides with the little time he has left, to try to figure out who the killer is. There’s another murder though and the more that he investigates, he becomes a target of the killer as well. His investigation leads him first to an art gallery where an odd painting might have something to do with what is happening.

To circle back what I was saying about this movie, coming in I didn’t really know anything about it, aside from the name Argento. Growing up I knew his name due to him being part of two of my favorite horror films, the original Dawn of the Dead and Demons. This is his first solo directed film and even early in his career I can see why he is considered a master of Italian horror. This film blends the great mystery of the giallo film with horror.

Where I’ll start is with the gialli elements. I originally had an issue that Sam would be collaborating with the police. He’s a writer. An element is that Inspector Morosini believes that he knows something but won’t tell them. This is a classic troupe for Argento that a character needs to remember an important piece of information that could break the case. The police are desperate. There have been 3 murders and then a fourth after Sam is pulled in. This is more of a troupe for gialli though. You either just buy it or you can’t pass it. Being more versed, I roll with it.

Something that builds tension here is that the killer knows Sam is on to them. They try to scare him off with a former boxer. They also come after Julia. Despite this, Sam is determined to discover who is doing this. I like how they build the mystery and things seem like dead-ends, but it does lead to the next bit of information needed to solve this case. Having seen this a handful of times now, even knowing how it ends, I still go along for the ride. I now look at the bigger picture and confirm there aren’t cheats. Personally, I think it is perfectly crafted there.

Then to finish out my thoughts with the story, I’ll discuss the mystery of who the killer was. I thought it worked. I know from my first watch; I thought I figured it out at one point and then there are a couple of twists which made me enjoy this film even more. After multiple viewings and others in this subgenre, I don’t think they do as much with the red herrings. The ones we get make sense though.

That should be enough for the story so then over to the acting. In general, I thought it was good. I wasn’t blown away by anyone, but that’s not an issue. I liked Musante here as our unlikely guy who is trying to solve the case. Kendall is gorgeous. I’m a fan of hers so that makes me a bit biased. I do like that she gets upset and worried about Sam, while he ignores it. Salerno is good as our inspector. He comes off as rude at first, but he warms to Sam and that friendship felt real. Renzi, Raho, Romano, Giuseppe Castellano and the rest of the cast worked here for what was needed as well.

All that is left then would be with filmmaking. I must give credit to be the cinematography. If there’s one thing that is constant through all the films I’ve seen of Argento, it is that. He just knows how to frame the shot, even this early on, to build tension and to give us information as we need it. I thought that the effects of the movie were solid as well. This movie is light on them until later, but the realism was there.

I’m going to break this off into its own section to discuss the soundtrack. Ennio Morricone chose such eerie sounding songs that makes those scenes that much creepier. It sounds like someone breathing or people just making odd sounds which is that much scarier. Pulling back to how this was shot, the images that are shown are great with the music. It gives such a different feel to the scene with it. He also likes to use close-ups that help build the tension of the scene. During one of the murder scenes, it focuses on her open mouth/tongue. Coupling this with quick takes, it gets the adrenaline of fear going for sure.

In conclusion, I like this film. Argento did a great job in his solo directorial debut and you can see his potential to make films that have followed this one up. The acting is good. The story is solid and I really liked the twists at the end of it. The soundtrack adds something to the vibe and tension. It comes with the normal troupes you’d see in gialli. I will warn you this is from the 1970s so it is dubbed, as they were known to do in Italy. For me, this is up there as one of my favorite films from this master of horror.


My Rating: 8.5 out of 10