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The Bird with the Crystal Plumage Blu-Ray Review

February 14, 2018 | Posted by Joseph Lee
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
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The Bird with the Crystal Plumage Blu-Ray Review  

*Tony Musante as Sam Dalmas
*Suzy Kendall as Giulia
*Enrico Maria Salerno as Inspector Morosini
*Eva Renzi as Monica Ranieri
*Umberto Raho as Alberto Ranieri

Story: Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante, We Own the Night), an American writer living in Rome, inadvertently witnesses a brutal attack on a woman (Eva Renzi, Funeral in Berlin) in a modern art gallery. Powerless to help, he grows increasingly obsessed with the incident. Convinced that something he saw that night holds the key to identifying the maniac terrorizing Rome, he launches his own investigation parallel to that of the police, heedless of the danger to both himself and his girlfriend Giulia.

If you know anything about Italian cinema, you’ve likely heard of Dario Argento at some point. Argento is one of the greatest directors from the country, and may be the greatest from the horror genre. He’s done some of the greatest work in the genre, up there with names like Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci. However, he’s primarily known for his early work in the giallo, a prototype of the slasher film that focused just as much on the murder mystery as the gory kills.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, released in 1970, was his first feature as a director. It kicked off a run of high-quality films that arguably didn’t end until the late 90s, although there are some varying opinions on the quality of his later works. It’s certainly the start of three straight giallo films (including The Cat O’ Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet) before he moved more into horror with Deep Red and Suspiria.

The plot is pretty standard for this type of movie, and reminiscent of a story Hitchcock might try (probably why they used a quote from Hitch about Argento in the trailer). A man witnesses a murder attempt, but is convinced there’s something he missed that’s keeping him from solving it. He works with the police in spite of multiple attempts on his life in order to finally end a madman’s reign of terror.

For my money, there are two important aspects to a movie like this to make it successful, especially if it’s tame on kill. And this is, as it’s not about that like Argento’s films would be. First, you need a likable lead. At first, it seems like Tony Musante’s Sam might only care for himself, but he quickly proves himself when willingly starts working with the police when he doesn’t have to. It also helps that Mustane is a generally nice guy and doesn’t lose his cool even he would be fully justified.

The second thing a good giallo needs is an engaging mystery, and this has that too. There are a couple of people that could potentially be the suspect and one glaring red herring. He’s such a red herring that you almost believe the story could be making you believe that he might actually be the killer. The answer comes a bit out of left field, and yet if you go back and watch you might be able to pick up clues. Even if you can’t, it’s not really about that, it’s about the ride and the guessing game.

While the kills are indeed fairly tame and usually off-screen, it’s still one of the better giallos. The story is engaging, the lead is worth following and the supporting cast also bring something unique. The show stealer is the rather odd pimp that Sam meets during his investigation, who counters his stutter by saying “so long” at the end of his sentences. It’s an unusual character trait but adds some needed levity in a tense story.

There’s not any real complaints for a film like this. It’s a tad slow for 95 minutes and the ending is a little abrupt (and a little too much like the over-explaining from Psycho) but they don’t hurt the overall experience. It makes up for that with the impressive score from Ennio Morricone, as well as some great stylistic choices in cinematography from Argento. One particular bit stands out, when Sam enters a completely dark room with only the light from the doorway illuminating him.

It’s easy to see with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage why Dario Argento became a force to be reckoned with in both giallos and horror. He has a very unique eye for visuals and makes the best use of his cast and production team. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a very good one and the start of a legendary directing career.

Film: 8.5

Arrow Video presents this film with both Italian and English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. I listened to both and thought the English sounded better, but they’re both decent.

Audio: 7.0

The film has an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. Argento always had a eye-catching visual style and his movies are usually the easiest to give a great transfer too. As such, the film looks great with Arrow’s high-quality transfer.

Video: 8.0

Special Features

Audio Commentary with Troy Howarth: Howart is an author that has an expertise in Italian giallo, so he’s the best choice for something like this, outside of people who were involved with the film. There’s a ton of information to be had here for those who want to listen to an admittedly dry track.

The Power of Perception: A visual essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas covering Argento’s attention to detail and his sleight of hand with certain shots. Not worthy of repeat viewing but interesting nonetheless.

Black Gloves and Screaming Mimis: Kat Ellinger offers her own take on the film.

Crystal Nightmare: A half-hour interview with the man himself, as Argento goes a bit into his career before focusing mainly on this movie. My personal favorite feature on the set, if only because I always enjoy hearing about Argento’s memories of his long career.

An Argento Icon: Gildo Di Marco, who played Garullo in the film, talks about his career and the film.

Eva’s Talking: Eva Renzi, who plays Monica, talks about her role as the would-be murder victim. The interview is archived from 2005, as Renzi passed away that same year.

There are also three trailers for the film.

You get a healthy selection of content, as the interviews alone offer up around two hours of details about the film’s production, as well as a commentary track with more information. It’s nice that Arrow gave this classic giallo the love it deserved. It’ll be interesting to see what the blu-rays for Cat O’Nine Tails and Don’t Torture a Duckling are like.

Special Features: 7.0

The final score: review Good
The 411
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a must-see film for fans of giallo or Dario Argento. Arrow Video compliments that with a great release, complete with a good transfer and a decent selection of special features. Fans will definitely want this one in their collection.