The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Blu-ray)
Review by: Jake Keet
Posted on: June 20th, 2017
Jump to Disc Scores

Plot: What’s it about?

I was very excited to see that Arrow Video was going to release the debut film from director Dario Argento. To be honest, Dario Argento is the main reason that I began to enjoy the Italian Giallo genre. When I was in college I bought a cheap DVD of Suspiria from a local record store. From the first time I heard the crazy music by Goblin, I knew I had found one of my favorite horror films and a director that I would like to investigate. Then my copy of Suspiria got lost, and I did not watch another Dario Argento film until last night. I was excited to start to make up for lost time.

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage tells the story of a young American novelist living in Rome named Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante.) Sam had come to a Rome to be inspired and had ended up writing a book about exotic birds in order to get enough money to move back to America with his gorgeous girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall.) On the way back to his apartment one night, Sam looks across the street and sees a woman and a darkly dressed man struggling. The woman, Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi,) falls to the floor and Sam gets stuck in between two glass walls trying to save her. She is lucky to survive the attack, because a killer has been killing beautiful women around the city and matches the profile of the man fleeing the scene. Sam is interrogated by Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno) about his memory of the attack. Sam’s memory is having difficulty and he finds himself drawn to find out more about the case. As Sam begins to piece together clues on the trail of the murderer, he places himself and those he cares about in danger.

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage is easily one of the best Giallo films that I have seen. Given that it was Dario Argento’s debut film as a director, he holds back on some of the more violent aspects of his later work, but it still looks and feels like a Dario Argento film. The cinematography is by the legendary Vitorrio Storaro, who will go down in history as one of the single greatest cinematographers of all time. He worked on Bertolucci’s The Conformist the same year as this film. I was struck by the imagery throughout the entire course of the film. Argento does an excellent job with the source material – a novel by Fredric a Brown called The Screaming Mimi. For his film, Argento stripped away any of the expository backstory that may have ruined the ending of the film, instead opting to toy with the audience in unexpected ways. The attack scene in the art gallery is full of great stylistic choices that Argento uses like a pro. Certain scenes in the film reminded me of another director that was making films across the ocean from Argento, Brian De Palma. It makes sense that both directors would be compared to Hitchcock.

The score by Ennio Morricone is absolutely fantastic. This should come as no surprise to any fans of Morricone’s work, but it helps the film along in every way. As revealed in the interview with Argento included on the disk, Morricone did not write the pieces prior to watching the film. Instead he improvised in the studio with a group of trusted musicians as he watched the film. The final product is one of Morricone’s more interesting scores.

The acting in the film is surprisingly competent. I can not think of anybody who committed a misstep, with a great leading man performance by Tony Musante. I was shocked to hear that he and Argentonhad not gotten along during the filming, because Musante does a great job in the role of Sam.

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage is an excellent example of what can happen when everything goes correctly. The images, sounds, and writing all lead to one of the better Giallo films and thrillers I have seen since becoming a fan of the genre. Very highly recommended.

Video: How’s it look?

Arrow Video have gone above and beyond with an excellent transfer of the film using an MPEG 4 AVC codec of a brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negatives. The transfer is another strong effort by Arrow Video and the image looks fantastic, retaining the grain and demonstrating great amounts of detail. For a film that is nearly fifty years old, it still looks great. Argento would go on to make some of the most vividly colorful horror films. In this film he uses color well with an absolutely fantastic looking attack in an art gallery. Any film can benefit from the touch of the legendary Vitorrio Storaro, and he does not disappoint here. This is another great effort by Arrow Video. Fans will be ecstatic, and newcomers will enjoy what they see.

Audio: How’s it sound?

Both an English and Italian LPCM Mono Track are included. I listened to the film intermittently in both languages and found that they bit held up well. I personally preferred the Italian track, but to each his own. The score from Ennio Morricone is really remarkable and fits the film like a glove. Obviously with these being Mono tracks the range is incredibly limited. The dialogue is crisp and clear and I did not notice much hiss aside from a tiny amount at the very beginning of the film. This is a solid effort and fans are not likely to complain.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Black Gloves and Screaming Minis – (31:54, 1080p) critic Kat Ellinger talks sexual politics in Argento’s films. This is a decent piece but overshadowed by the other pieces in the disk.
  • The Power of Perception (20:57, 1080p) – visual essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas about Argento’s films. It gives fair warning that it contains spoilers.
  • Crystal Nightmare (31:24, 1080p) – an extended interview with Dario Argento. He discusses that this was his first film as a director, his film critic past, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, why the choseRome, psychoanalysis in film, memory in film, the film’s reception and numerous other small items of interest. This was an absolutely fascinating feature and I could have listened to him for another hour discussing his work.
  • An Argento Icon (22:05, 1080p) – Gildo di Marco, who played the stuttering pimp in the film, discusses his career and working with Argento.
  • Eva’s Talking – an archival interview from 2005 with the late Eva Renzi. This interview is interesting mainly because she confirms that Tony Musante had a big ego at the time of filming. (11:19, SD)
  • Trailers – Italian, international, and 2017 Texas Frightmare
  • Audio Commentary – Troy Howarth, an authority on Giallo, and published author discusses the film in depth. This is an excellent and informative track.

The Bottom Line

The Bird With Crystal Plumage is an excellent thriller and a perfect film as an introduction to Giallo for people that are curious as to what these films are like. I love the cinematography by Vittorio and the music by a Ennio. With a great director calling the shots and a solid script,  it all comes together very well. Arrow Video have provides some excellent supplements and a couple that were unnecessary. The interview with Argento is good enough to warrant a purchase on its own, and the commentary track with Troy Howarth is excellent. I highly recommend adding this one to your collection if you have the slightest interest in the Giallo genre.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Blu-ray)
Dario Argento
Arrow Video
96 min.

Certified Fresh 91%
  • (2.35:1)
  • Video Codec: AVC
  • Audio: Mono
  • 1 Disc Set
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Audio Commentary
  • Deleted Scene(s)
  • Featurette
  • Documentary
  • Digital Copy