Review: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Written by Dario Argento
Directed by Dario Argento
Starring Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi, Umberto Raho
Released February 27, 1980 (Milan)
RT 96 min. (?)
Home Video VCI Entertainment (DVD, Blu-ray)
Classic Horrors rating = 7 (out of 10)

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Once again, I’m not sure exactly which version of a foreign movie I just watched.  I’m guessing that the dubbed DVD of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage released many years ago by VCI is an edited version.  Other than a bloody hand reaching into the air, or a little blood splashing on a pillow, not much remains of Dario Argento’s trademark gore.  Had I realized this ahead of time, I would have been better prepared and ordered the latest and greatest Blu-ray.

It’s not that I’m a gorehound.  It’s just that I don’t find enough unique about the movie that would have caused it to earn its highly regarded reputation.  The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is not considered the first giallo; however, its success is credited for starting a prolific trend in production of films of the subgenre during the early to mid-1970s.  Perhaps I instead find it to be one of the more competent and less sensational gialli that I have seen.

Of the many things I like about the movie, actor Tony Musante is one of them.  He projects a physically appealing, socially unassuming personality.  As Sam Dalmas, he’s a writer from the United States stranded in Italy when he becomes a material witness to an attempted murder and Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno) confiscates his passport.  In what becomes a running joke, Sam says several times that he’s leaving the country “the day after tomorrow.”

I also like that the trope of an incompetent police force is somewhat muted.  Sure, they don’t progress very far with the investigation on their own; however, it seems that they’re just less invested in finding the killer than Sam is.  You see, the killer doesn’t like that Sam is nosing around and is getting closer to solving the mystery than the police are.  Not only does Sam want to leave on a jet plane, he also wants to remain among the living.

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I like how Argento gradually reveals the killer, visually.  At first we see only the hands wearing black leather gloves, but as the movie continues we see more and more.  Eventually, we even experience a POV shot as the killer approaches a building for a pre-climax scene.  I was truly surprised by the killer’s identity.  There’s the usual red herring, but that trope is milked for all its worth, to the very end.

On the other hand, I don’t like how The Bird with the Crystal Plumage drags on just a little too long.  There’s perhaps one murder too many to keep the running time under 90 minutes.  Of course, this could be because with the violence excised, there’s no shocking jolt to energize you during the movie’s back half.  I guess this particular version left me wanting more.  If it’s not edited as I’m assuming it is, it deserves another evaluation.

Supposedly, this movie caused Argento to be known as “the Italian Hitchcock.”  If I may go on a tangent, I’d like to talk about Brian DePalma.  With Dressed to Kill, he earned the reputation of being “the new Hitchcock.”  I always imagined this was due to that movie’s similarities to Psycho.  However, I now see influences from The Bird with the Crystal Plumage in Dressed to Kill.  Perhaps DePalma should have been called “the American Argento.”

From its murder of a pretty woman in an elevator with a straight razor to its (spoiler alert) gender-bending conclusion, DePalma must have been paying as much tribute to Argento as he was to Hitchcock.  Anyway, the experience of watching this movie, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage has left me wanting two things: to see its original, uncut version and to see Argento’s other “Animal Trilogy” films, The Cat o’Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet.

Today’s passport stamp:ItalyPart of the Countdown to Halloween.  Tomorrow… one more day in Italy!

2 thoughts on “Review: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

  1. Pingback: Review: Black Belly of the Tarantula (1971) | Classic Horrors

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