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 I think might be the second ever Dario Argento film that I saw. I know my first was Suspiria and then I believe this one. This would also be like my third foray into the giallo subgenre by my knowledge as well. I wasn’t the biggest fan then, just by not really knowing what I was getting into. I have seen quite a few now and I do have to admit that I’m still new, but quite fond. I also believe this is my 3rd viewing, with the previous time at the Gateway Film Center when they were celebrating Argento. The synopsis here though is an American expatriate in Rome witnesses 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 a man in a black coat and hat. There’s a knife in involved and we watches as the man stabs her. Sam crosses the street and tries to get into the gallery. The man flees, but he hits a control locking Sam out of the gallery, but also preventing 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 begin with. Their initial interrogation is done at the gallery. The good news is Monica has survived as it was just a flesh wound. Her husband shows up, Alberto (Umberto Raho) and he is distraught at what happened. He states 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 come to the conclusion that he didn’t stab Monica. There have been three other attacks and it is a pattern. Inspector Mororini believes there is part of what he saw that he is not remembering. He takes Sam’s passport away 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 is 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 looks into it, 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 actually is his first solo directed film and even early in his career I can see why he is considered the master of Italian horror. This film blends a great mystery with the horror of the giallo film.

I thought the acting was good for the most part. I wasn’t blown away by anyone, but no one did anything to ruin the film. The mystery of who the killer was is great. I thought I had it figured out at one point and then there are a couple of twists which made me enjoy this film even more. After these 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. I should also say that I liked Musante here and Kendall is gorgeous. The rest of the cast worked here for what was needed as well.

Something I have to give credit to be the cinematography. If there’s one thing that is constant through all of the films I’ve seen of his, 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 and the effects of the movie were solid. This movie is pretty light on them to some later on, but the realism was there.

The other thing that was absolutely amazing was the soundtrack. Ennio Morricone chose such eerie sounding songs that makes those scenes that much creepier. It actually sounds like someone breathing or people just making odd sounds which is that much scarier. What the images on the film are showing are great, but it sets such a different feel to the scene with it. He also likes to use close-ups that help build the tension of the scene, like in this one there are a lot of hands. 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.

There were some issues that came up for me with this film. The first issue that struck me, I don’t know if I can fully buy in that the police would help Sam conduct his own investigation. Now this film takes place in Italy and in 1970, so I cannot assume to know how they run their police force. I could see them taking any information that he knows, but actually having a citizen conduct their own investigation didn’t seem real to me. This is really just more of a troupe for these giallo films though. You either just buy in or you don’t like it.

I also hate how the killer acts at the end of the film. There is a cat and mouse instead of the killer just finishing it. This is something that you see in a lot of films. I will give it credit that it did build tension, as you are hoping the police or someone will save Sam, but again in real life, I don’t think killers would do that. This doesn’t ruin the film, but something that loses some of the realism. This isn’t something that really ruin it, but something that sticks with still.

Now with that said though, I really liked 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 definitely adds something to this film. It does come with some issues, but nothing really ruins it. I wanted to warn you that this film is from Italy and West Germany, so my copy was dubbed over. This film is also from 1970 so keep that in mind when coming in. I would highly recommend this one though if you can get past those issues, as I felt this is a great early giallo film.


My Rating: 8.5 out of 10