This Month's Featured Equipment Reviews
Bird with the Crystal Plumage
Written by Bill Warren
Tuesday, 16 November 1999
|Bird With the Crystal Plumage
|VCI Home Video
||Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi, Umberto Raho, Raf Valenti, Mario Adorf, Reggie Nalder
This was the first movie from Dario Argento as a director, and remains
probably his most successful movie on an international scale. Intensely
suspenseful, beautifully photographed (by the great Vittorio Storaro),
with strong violence and a surprising twist, 'Bird with the Crystal
Plumage' established Argento with one stroke, and, outside of Italy at
least, introduced the giallo subgenre of suspense.
Giallo, which simply means "yellow," came from the covers of a series
of thriller novels on which that color predominated. The term carried
over to this string of vivid, stylish suspense/horror movies. Argento
himself did several more, such as 'Four Flies on Gray Velvet' and the
outstanding 'Deep Red' (numbers turn up in the titles of many of these,
as do colors), before heading off in his own distinctive direction.
'Crystal Plumage' is the exemplar of these movies, few of which have
deviated very far from the formula it non-deliberately established.
(There were 'gialli' before, but this was the biggest hit to that
point.) The central character becomes involved in a series of gruesome
murders, mostly of beautiful young women. There are lots of suspects,
lots of striking wide-screen, color photography. The killer often turns
out to be motivated by some traumatic childhood incident, usually
associated with sex, sometimes with sex and violence. Most of these
films are far gorier than 'Crystal Plumage.' Only very rarely is the
killer simply greedy.
Here, Tony Musante plays Sam Dalmas, an American writer just wrapping
up an assignment in Italy. He's already bought his return ticket when
he witnesses a stabbing in the glass-fronted lobby of a modern
building. A black-clad figure flees, leaving behind a beautiful woman,
Monica (Eva Renzi), who almost bleeds to death. Something about the
incident troubles Sam, but he can't quite remember what it is. Police
detective Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno) at first briefly suspects
Sam, but they become friendly, even when Sam, despite the misgivings of
his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall), decides to investigate further
The crime was clearly the work of the same killer who's already claimed
three victims, and nails more before the end of the movie. We often see
the killer's black-gloved hands choosing just the right knife from an
Although Argento claims that he's been most influenced by the work of
Ingmar Bergman (!), it's obvious that he also studied Hitchcock movies
before making 'Bird with the Crystal Plumage.' (The title is just a
title; we do see a bird, but it merely connects to an important clue.
The bird is played by a briefly-seen African Crowned Crane.) Argento
adopts Hitchcock's prowling shots, some of the means of developing
suspense, and the idea of the hero being wrongly suspected of the
murder. He even uses Reggie Nalder as a pistol-carrying assassin, the
same kind of character he played in Hitchcock's second 'The Man Who
Knew Too Much.'
The story, however, is quite unlike anything Hitchcock did -- except
for 'Frenzy,' made after 'Bird with the Crystal Plumage,' so perhaps
for once the influences went the other way.
Furthermore, the composition elegant, wide-screen photography --
beautifully preserved on this DVD -- is distinctly unlike Hitchcock's.
Visually, Argento has always had a brilliant, distinctive style; even
when his films don't hold up dramatically, they're always a pleasure to
watch, and were from the opening frames of 'Crystal Plumage.'
Son of a screenwriter, Argento began in that capacity himself, mostly
on relatively minor movies, few of which had American release, although
he did work on Sergio Leone's 'Once Upon a Time in the West.' He's
continued to write his own movies, often with collaborators, while very
occasionally writing a film he doesn't direct. He's weakest as a
writer, unfortunately, relying on coincidences, shock effects and
often-clumsy plotting. But at his best, he's one of the most
interesting and stylish directors of horror/mystery movies to emerge in
the last half of the 20th century.
Visually, this disc could hardly be bettered; the print is clean and
sharp, the colors the muted tones Argento and Storaro wanted.
Unfortunately, however, VCI wasn't able to find the original track; the
movie is dubbed throughout, where subtitling would probably have been
preferable. On the other hand, the two leads, Musante and Kendall, both
seem to have spoken English on the set, so perhaps this dubbed version
is the wisest compromise.
Musante has a very strong screen presence, but he never really
capitalized on it. For a few years in the late 60s and early 70s, he
teetered on the brink of stardom, and was actually the lead in 'Toma,'
a popular TV series. But he walked away from the show, which was
quickly converted into 'Baretta,' and which has rarely been revived. He
apparently was far more content playing character roles than leads, and
still turns up in that capacity today, giving fine, understated
Many Argento aficionados tend to underrate 'Bird with the Crystal
Plumage,' almost as if its financial success indicated too much
acceptance on the part of those who merely go to movies, and don't
venerate directors. But even if the ending is, after decades of
imitators, reasonably predictable by today's viewers, even if the plot
moves in fits and starts, 'Bird with the Crystal Plumage' is a
beautiful, suspenseful thriller, and marks the beginning of Argento's
overall impressive career.
|anamorphic widescreen (16X9 enhanced)
||Only extra is the trailer, though the score is available as an isolated track
||email us here...
||36-inch Sony XBR