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The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1969)

Cast: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Eva Renzi, more...
Director: Dario Argento
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Studio: Vci Video
Genre: Cult, Giallo
Running Time: 98 min.
Languages: English
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This trend-setting thriller put its director, Dario Argento, on the international map and began a flood of imitative mystery-horror hybrids which dominated Italian genre output in the early 1970s. Tony Musante, best known for the television series Toma, portrays an American who witnesses the murder of a woman at a trendy Rome art gallery. Before long, Musante finds himself targeted by a mysterious killer. Based on a story by Byron Edgar Wallace, Bird and hints at the flamboyance which would become Argento's trademark. This and Argento's subsequent two films Il Gatto a Nove Code and Quattro Mosche di Velluto Grigio were much less horror-oriented than his later work. ~ Robert Firsching, All Movie Guide

Special Features

  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Isolated Original Soundtrack

GreenCine Member Reviews

Psychological Thriller sans the Psychology by hecklongtree January 8, 2007 - 4:59 PM PST
"The Bird with the Crystal Plumage" is Dario Argento's directorial debut, and according to the imdb, an uncredited adaptation of "The Screaming Mimi," a novel by noted pulp writer Fredric Brown.

An American writer in Italy (Tony Musante, later to star as TV detective "Toma") passes a gallery window and witnesses a woman's apparent attack inside--an attack the police believe is linked to series of unsolved murders. The American wants to go back to the states, but the cops prevent him from leaving, holding his passport till he can remember details that will help them crack the case. And so Musante plays amateur detective, investigating the case, so that he can get his passport back and return home. It's the old Hitchcock plot from"Rear Window" and "The Man Who Knew Too Much,"where a private citizen witnesses a crime and winds up playing amatuer sleuth, since the cops can't solve the case by themselves.

The film features great Ennio Morricone music and beautiful Vittorio Storaro cinematography. The film's problem is with the script. "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage," as Dario Argento wrote it, is a psycholgical thriller in which the villain's psychology is never developed. We never really know why the killer commits the crimes. Sure, there's a psychologist at the end who proffers an explanation la Simon Oakland in "Psycho," but here it appears that the shrink is just bluffing. He doesn't really know either.

It's like Orson Welles said: "Even a villain has his reasons." The problem with this film, and with Argento's films in general, is that the villain really has no reasons. Argento depicts scenes of violence against women solely for their prurient appeal, and then he wonders why people call him a misogynist.

"No! Ursula Andress belongs with the transvestites, not the perverts!" by ColonelKong September 20, 2003 - 10:17 AM PDT
7 out of 7 members found this review helpful
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is an above-average late 60s/early 70s giallo and not bad for a directing debut, but it's not really a film I'd show to people to demonstrate why Argento is a great director (for that I'd use Deep Red, Suspiria, Tenebre, and maybe Inferno). It doesn't have a highly original storyline, it uses the same "man wrongly accused who has to clear himself" motif from several Hitchcock films, and the sinister black-clad killer comes straight out of Mario Bava's superior film Blood and Black Lace/Sei Donne Per L'Assasino, but the film is interesting for Argento buffs as it does have some prototypical elements of his later films (without giving away too much, Tenebre has a somewhat similar climactic scene, and it has a shot of someone bending down to reveal someone behind them and then standing back up similar to one in Tenebre which Brian De Palma has borrowed a couple of times). Ennio Morricone contributes a nice spooky avant garde jazz-influenced score, but I don't think Argento had quite the same rapport with Morricone as a composer as he did with the group Goblin. The Bird With Crystal Plumage is also notable for being an early film for famed Bertolucci and Apocalypse Now cameraman Vittorio Storaro.

The Bird With Crystal Plumage is worth seeing if you're already an Argento fan (as are the two other films in his "Animal Trilogy" The Cat O' Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet [which isn't on DVD right now] which I would rank above this film but below Deep Red, which I consider Argento's first great film [maybe I'm a little biased since it's the first one I saw]), but it's not the place to start out if you're new to Argento's films.

Oh yes, unlike several other early 70's gialli, there actually is an explaination for the film's baroque title.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.13)
165 Votes
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