The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

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The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
Bird-with-crystal-plumage.jpg
Italian theatrical release poster
Directed by Dario Argento
Produced by Salvatore Argento
Artur Brauner (uncredited)
Written by Dario Argento
Based on The Screaming Mimi by Fredric Brown (uncredited)
Starring Tony Musante
Suzy Kendall
Music by Ennio Morricone
Cinematography Vittorio Storaro
Edited by Franco Fraticelli
Production
  company
Central Cinema Company Film (CCC)
Glazier
Seda Spettacoli
Distributed by Titanus
Release date(s) 19 February 1970
Running time 98 min.
Country Italy
West Germany
Language Italian
Budget $500,000 (estimated)
Box office 1,650,000,000 (Italy)

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Italian: L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo) is a 1970 Italian giallo film directed by Dario Argento, in his directorial debut. The film is considered a landmark in the Italian giallo genre. Written by Argento, the film is an uncredited adaptation of Fredric Brown's novel The Screaming Mimi, which had previously been made into a Hollywood film, Screaming Mimi (1958), directed by Gerd Oswald.

The film was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe award for best motion picture in 1971. The film was originally cut by 20 seconds for its US release and received a 'GP' rating, though it was later re-classified as 'PG'. It has since been released in the US uncut. Upon its release the film was a huge box office hit, grossing 1,650,000,000 Italian lira (roughly about $1 million US), twice the production cost of $500,000. The film was also a success outside of Italy, gaining €1,366,884 admissions in Spain.

Plot[edit]

Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is an American writer living in Rome with his model girlfriend Giulia (Suzy Kendall). Suffering from writer's block, Sam is on the verge of returning to America, but witnesses the attack of a woman in an art gallery by a mysterious black-gloved assailant dressed in a raincoat.

Attempting to reach her, Sam is trapped between two mechanically-operated glass doors and can only watch as the villain makes his escape. The woman, Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi), the wife of the gallery's owner, Alberto Ranieri (Umberto Raho), survives the attack and the local police confiscates Sam's passport to stop him from leaving the country; the assailant is believed to be a serial killer who is killing young women across the city, and Sam is an important witness.

Sam is haunted by what he saw that night, feeling sure that some vital clue is evading him, and he decides to help Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno) in his investigation. He interviews the pimp of a murdered prostitute and visits a shop where another of the murdered women worked. There, he finds that the last thing she sold on the day she was murdered was a painting of a stark landscape featuring a man in a raincoat murdering a young woman. He visits the artist, but finds only another dead end. On his way back to his apartment, Giulia is attacked but Sam returns home in time to save her and the assailant escapes.

Receiving menacing phone calls, the police manage to isolate an odd cricketing noise in the background, which is later revealed to be the call of a rare bird from Siberia, called "The Bird with Crystal Plumage" due to the diaphanous glint of its feathers. This proves important since the only one of its kind in Rome is kept in the Italian capital's zoo, allowing Sam and the police to identify the killer's abode. There they find Monica struggling with her husband, Alberto, who is wielding a knife. After a short struggle, Alberto is killed. As he dies, he confesses to the murders and tells them he loves his wife.

Finding that Giulia and Monica have run off, Sam goes after them, eventually coming to a darkened building. There he finds his friend Garullo (Gildo Di Marco) murdered and Giulia bound, gagged and wounded. The assailant emerges and is revealed as Monica. Sam realises that the attack he witnessed in the gallery was not Monica being assaulted but rather her attacking her husband, who was wearing the raincoat. She flees and he pursues her to her art gallery. There, he is trapped, pinned to the floor by the release of a wall-sized sculpture of wire and metal. Unable to free himself, he becomes the prey of the person he was pursuing—the attractive, deranged wife of the gallery owner. This climax to the mystery, with strong sado-masochistic elements, has the knife-wielding Monica teasing Sam as she prepares to kill him. As she raises her knife, the police burst in and apprehend her, notified by Giulia who had escaped. Sam is freed and Monica is taken to a psychiatric hospital. The victim of a traumatic attack ten years before, seeing the painting drove her mad, causing her to identify not with the victim but with the assailant. Alberto likewise suffered from an induced psychosis, helping her to cover up the murders and committing some himself. Sam and Giulia are re-united and return to America.

Cast[edit]

Assessment[edit]

Argento was already a successful screenwriter and movie critic at the time; he borrowed money from his well-off father to produce his directorial debut. Additional funds were gathered from German producers interested in a run-of-the-mill "Krimi" such as the Edgar-Wallace-inspired films which were a staple at West German box offices in the day.

Argento managed to derail the project injecting heavy doses of violence and implied sexual titillation in the movie, meshing them in a lustrous and visionary cinematographic style which captivated both the general public (thrilled by the most lurid plot elements) and the critics (enthralled by the audacity of the camerawork and the montage).

Argento borrowed heavily from crime thriller literature (some plot elements derive from works of Fredric Brown; Musante's character is named after an early incarnation of Raymond Chandler's iconic character Philip Marlowe) and from previous Italian thrillers (the killer's attire was lifted from Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace, of which he closely imitated the gory murder sequences) but he managed to make the end result fresh and provocative instead of derivative.

Following murder movies from Argento would treasure these elements along with the recurring plot point of the protagonist seeing something of great importance but finding himself either unable to realize or remember what he saw (another favourite of some Bava movies, who was fascinated by the idea of cinema as sensory illusion).

Release[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage has been very well received by critics. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 91% based on twenty-two reviews, with the consensus "Combining a deadly thriller plot with the stylized violence that would become his trademark, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage marked an impressive horror debut for Dario Argento."[1]The New York Times wrote, "[It] has the energy to support its elaborateness and the decency to display its devices with style. Something from each of its better models has stuck, and it is pleasant to rediscover old horrors in such handsome new décor. "[2] Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars, writing, "it's a pretty good [thriller]", but that "its scares are on a much more basic level than in, say, a thriller by Hitchcock."[3]

It was placed 272nd in Empire magazine's "500 Greatest Movies of All Time" list.[4]

Home media[edit]

The film was originally cut by 20 seconds for its US release and received a 'GP' rating, though it was later re-classified as 'PG'. The film was later released on DVD by VCI with the restored violence, but had problems with a sequence of shots referred to as "the panty removal scene". Later pressings fixed it. Blue Underground later obtained the rights and re-released the film completely uncut, adding an extra shot of violence previously unseen. The picture was completely restored and the sound was remixed into both 5.1 audio for both Italian and English tracks, but contained another soundtrack remixed into DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete in English.

Blue Underground released the film on Blu-ray Disc on 24 February 2009. Tech specs saw a BD-50 dual-layer presentation with newly remastered 1080p video and English audio tracks in DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 7.1 Surround and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 Surround plus the original Italian audio track. It is now out-of-print. VCI announced on their Facebook page that they plan to release the film on Blu-ray Disc sometime soon.[5]

The cut US print was released in the UK in 1970 as The Gallery Murders and received no further cuts. However when the uncut version was reissued for cinema in 1983 under its original title it was cut by the BBFC to the infamous "panty murder" sequence, and these cuts persisted until 2011 when the complete version was finally passed uncut for the Arrow DVD release.

Alternate versions[edit]

  • The West German theatrical version was cut by 10 minutes. For TV broadcasting these scenes were reinserted but the violent scenes were trimmed instead.
  • Scenes with writing (letters, newspaper headlines, etc.) were shot in both Italian and English and vary from print to print.
  • When inspector Morosini meets Sam at the hospital after he has escaped from the hired killer, he asks him if he could recognize him. In the US version he says he could not, explaining he didn't see his face clearly; in the Italian version he says yes because, "You don't easily forget a face like that".
  • Initial pressings of VCI Entertainment's DVD release incorrectly restored part of the "panty murder" sequence. The shot of the killer holding the panties was re-inserted before he actually removes them from his victim. Some of the more recent pressings of the DVD have the scene restored correctly, in the proper order.

References[edit]

External links[edit]