Bird With The Crystal Plumage

Monday, 23 May 2011 09:17

Released in 1970, “Plumage” was Dario Argento’s first feature and has been seen as the forerunner to the giallo horror genre in which he has received so much acclaim. That said, it is primarily a thrilling murder mystery, not a gory slasher flick. The film centres on American nature writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante – “The Yards”, Oz), who interrupts a chilling attempted murder, only to become one of the killer’s prime targets.

Due to leave Italy, the police withhold his passport. Sam is the only witness to one of several potentially linked murders and he is also a suspect. That suspicion quickly turns to trust as the murders continue, and Sam’s own investigation into the crimes results in several attempts on his life. Something critical about the incident he witnessed is gnawing away at him but he cannot fathom it out. Until he does, he will not give up.

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage makes it to Blu-rayArgento was 29 when he directed “The Bird...” but you would never have guessed it was the directorial debut of someone so inexperienced, with the exception of a few prior writing credits. The film is brimming with confidence and atmosphere, and the actors really breathe life into their roles. In particular, Musante excels as Sam, successfully portraying him as a typical Argento lead – a regular Joe who gets sucked into dark and dangerous events that spiral out of control.

Most of the other cast members also play it straight and help to imbue the movie with a sense of reality. Enrico Maria Salerno is excellent as the scrupulous and open-minded Inspector Morosini, and Suzy Kendall (The Persuaders!, “Spasmo”) entices as Sam’s sexy and very understanding girlfriend Julia. A couple of quirky performances help to provide a dash of colour, including Werner Peters as a rather camp and predatory antique dealer, and Mario Adorf as a volatile hermitic artist who catches and eats stray cats!

As mentioned above, this is a thriller, and as such the murders are shown “Psycho”-style, with first- and third-person glimpses of plunging knives and photos of prostrate victims. Argento uses the power of suggestion and the audience’s imagination, rather than graphic violence and blood. This approach is just as effective as his more visceral offerings, and makes a refreshing change. The mysterious killer is seen quite a lot, but always masked by a black coat, hat and leather gloves. This might not be very original attire for the genre, but Argento exploits it well when directing his murderer emerging from and retreating into the shadows.

Aside from the murders, the film does not contain many action sequences, but when they do arrive they are nervy and gripping. They bring to mind films such as “The French Connection”. The standout piece is when Sam is engaged in a tense, night-time game of cat and mouse with an armed pursuer in a bus depot. The buses form maze-like corridors, providing cover and causing confusing disorientation in equal measure. Ennio Morricone’s snazzy, jazzy music helps to boost the atmosphere, mixing edgy riffs with harsh brass notes that concisely convey the alarming, perilous goings-on.

The picture quality of this Blu-ray release is slightly inferior to other Argento releases by Arrow, perhaps because of the age or grade of the film stock. Lighter areas are fine on detail but darker zones are typically solid black blocks with no shades of grey. Artistically, this might benefit the film because it does occasionally make it hard to see who or what is lurking in the shadows. Next to the fuzzy clips of the older VHS or DVD versions of the movie included in the special features, your appreciation of the restoration work done on the picture is elevated somewhat.

Other reviewers have commented on how the aspect ratio is wrong and that there is considerable clipping, but other than a moment early on in the film I cannot say that I noticed anything untoward. I would need to compare two versions of the movie to pass comment, but it did not affect my enjoyment of the film.

The special features on this disc are decent by normal standards but do not quite reach the level Arrow has led us to expect. Interviews with giallo masters Argento, Luigi Cozzi and Sergio Martino are rather dry and sedentary, though they do contain some interesting nuggets of information. The full package includes:

  • Brand new High Definition restoration of the film from the original negative presented in Director of Photography, Vittorio Storaro s original 2:1 Univisium aspect ratio
  • Four Sleeve art options with original and newly commissioned artwork
  • Two-sided fold-out poster
  • Exclusive collector's booklet featuring brand new writing on the film by Alan Jones, author of Profondo Argento
  • Brand new HD restoration of the film presented in 1080p
  • A Crystal Classic: Luigi Cozzi Remembers Dario s Bloody Bird (1080p)
  • Sergio Martino: The Genesis of the Giallo (1080p)
  • The Italian Hitchcock: Dario Argento Remembers The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1080p)

“The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” (1970) is out on Blu-ray disc now, courtesy of Arrow Video. The main feature has a running time of 96 minutes approx, carries a ‘15’ certificate and retails for £19.99, or less from

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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