The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) Review

Horrorific content by TE Simmons on January 05th, 2022 | Movie Review | Thriller, Maniac, Giallo, Dario Argento

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It’s about witnessing an attempted murder and following clues to the discover the truth.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was written and directed by Dario Argento (Phenomena, Trauma, Opera, and Suspira). It stars Tony Musante (The Mercenary and The Detective), Suzy Kendall (Assault, Torso, and To Sir, with Love), and Enrico Maria Salerno (Late Night Trains and Night Train Murders).

Can an American author cure his writer’s block by playing amateur detective in Italy?

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage Review

Like many giallo films, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage resonates with style. It was Dario Argento’s directorial debut and the first in his “animal trilogy” (which also includes The Cat o’ Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet). The film, which generated staggering box office receipts, is often credited as launching the giallo genre.

This is a film which boasts a superb title having relatively little connection with the narrative. That’s consistent with the giallo attitude toward art and filmmaking: style and effect trumps narrative logic or coherence. It’s the look and feel of the thing that matters most.

About two-thirds of the way through the film, the protagonist Sam Dalmas follows a key clue – an oil painting depicting a violent murder – to the artist’s home.

An extended sequence follows. Dalmas climbs a ladder into the artist’s abode and they share a meal. The painter reveals, casually, that he raises housecats for food and that Dalmas has just enjoyed his first taste of broasted kitten. Dalmas abruptly departs and returns to Rome, the feline fillets interlude having served no purpose; having done nothing whatsoever to advance the plot.

Toward the beginning of the movie, Dalmas launches his quest for clues after witnessing a near-murder. As he strides down a nighttime street in Rome, he spots movement in an art gallery and goes to investigate. Trapped between an exterior window and the store window, he can do nothing to save the woman, but the police arrive in time to save her. Something about what he has witnessed does not add up, but he can’t put his finger on it. And the killer escapes.

The visual metaphor of being sandwiched between two layers of glass must have some symbolic importance, I reasoned. Later, Dalmas visits a prisoner in his pursuit of the unknown madman. The conversation between the two men occurs between two parallel glass barriers – a repeat of the earlier image. Surely, Argento was framing a larger point.

Are the characters caught between the lens and the ground glass of a camera, symbolically grasping for truth in the same way a film director works? Perhaps. But it’s gaillo. So, the better explanation is likely that it means nothing. It’s just stylish. Like the cat snack; it too is stylish.

Worth Watching?

Yes, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a buono gaillo film.

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