The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

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The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

Italian theatrical release poster
Directed byDario Argento
Produced bySalvatore Argento
Artur Brauner (uncredited)
Written byDario Argento
Based onThe Screaming Mimi by Fredric Brown (uncredited)
StarringTony Musante
Suzy Kendall
Music byEnnio Morricone
CinematographyVittorio Storaro
Editing byFranco Fraticelli
StudioCentral Cinema Company Film (CCC)
Glazier
Seda Spettacoli
Distributed byTitanus
Release date(s)19 February 1970
Running time98 min.
CountryItaly
West Germany
LanguageItalian
Budget$500,000 (estimated)
Box office1,650,000,000 (Italy)
 
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The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

Italian theatrical release poster
Directed byDario Argento
Produced bySalvatore Argento
Artur Brauner (uncredited)
Written byDario Argento
Based onThe Screaming Mimi by Fredric Brown (uncredited)
StarringTony Musante
Suzy Kendall
Music byEnnio Morricone
CinematographyVittorio Storaro
Editing byFranco Fraticelli
StudioCentral Cinema Company Film (CCC)
Glazier
Seda Spettacoli
Distributed byTitanus
Release date(s)19 February 1970
Running time98 min.
CountryItaly
West Germany
LanguageItalian
Budget$500,000 (estimated)
Box office1,650,000,000 (Italy)

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Italian: L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo) is a 1970 Italian giallo film directed by Dario Argento, in his directorial debut. The film is considered a landmark in the Italian giallo genre. Written by Argento, the film is an uncredited adaptation of Fredric Brown's novel The Screaming Mimi, which had previously been made into a Hollywood film, Screaming Mimi (1958), directed by Gerd Oswald.

The film was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe award for best motion picture in 1971. The film was originally cut by 20 seconds for its US release and received a 'GP' rating, though it was later re-classified as 'PG'. It has since been released in the US uncut. Upon its release the film was a huge box office hit, grossing 1,650,000,000 Italian lira (roughly about $1 million US), twice the production cost of $500,000. The film was also a success outside of Italy, gaining €1,366,884 admissions in Spain.

Contents

Plot

Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is an American writer currently living in Rome with his model girlfriend Giulia (Suzy Kendall). Suffering from a writer's block, Sam is on the verge of returning to the U.S., but witnesses the attack of a woman (Eva Renzi) by a mysterious black-gloved assailant dressed in a raincoat.

Attempting to reach her, Sam is trapped between two mechanically-operated glass doors and can only watch as the villain makes his escape. The woman, Monica Ranieri, the wife of the gallery's owner, survives the attack, but the local police confiscates Sam's passport to stop him from leaving the country; the assailant is believed to be a serial killer who is terrorizing the city, and they believe the writer to be an important witness.

Sam is haunted by what he saw that night, feeling sure that some vital clue is evading him, and soon finds that both he and his girlfriend are the killer's new targets.

Receiving menacing phone calls he manages to isolate an odd cricketing noise in the background, which is later revealed to be the call of a rare bird from the Southern Caucasus, called "The Bird with Crystal Plumage" due to the diaphanous glint of its feathers. This proves important since the only one of its kind in Rome is kept in the Italian capital's zoo, allowing Sam and the police to identify the killer's abode.

In the end, Sam chases the mysterious assailant through a darkened building. He is trapped once more, this time pinned to the floor by release of a wall-sized sculpture of wire and metal. Unable to free himself, he becomes the prey of the person he was pursuing—the attractive, deranged wife of the gallery owner. This climax to the mystery, with strong sado-masochistic elements, has the knife-wielding lady teasing Sam in preparation to stabbing him. She fails, of course, and Sam provides the obligatory wrap-up scene with his girlfriend.

Cast

Assessment

Argento was already a successful screenwriter and movie critic at the time; he borrowed money from his well-off father to produce his directorial debut. Additional funds were gathered from German producers interested in a run-of-the-mill "krimi" such as the Edgar-Wallace inspired movies which were a staple at West German box offices in the day.

Argento managed to derail the project injecting heavy doses of violence and implied sexual titillation in the movie, meshing them in a lustrous and visionary cinematographic style which captivated both the general public (thrilled by the most lurid plot elements) and the critics (enthralled by the audacity of the camerawork and the montage).

Argento borrowed heavily from crime thriller literature (some plot elements derive from works of Fredric Brown; Musante's character is named after an early incarnation of Raymond Chandler's iconic character Philip Marlowe) and from previous Italian thrillers (the killer's attire was lifted from Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace, of which he closely imitated the gory murder sequences) but he managed to make the end result fresh and provocative instead of derivative.

Following murder movies from Argento would treasure these elements along with the recurring plot point of the protagonist seeing something of great importance but finding himself either unable to realize or remember what he saw (another favourite of some Bava movies, who was fascinated by the idea of cinema as sensory illusion).

Release

Critical reception

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage has been very well-received by critics.

On movie review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 91% based on twenty-two reviews.[1]The New York Times wrote, "[It] has the energy to support its elaborateness and the decency to display its devices with style. Something from each of its better models has stuck, and it is pleasant to rediscover old horrors in such handsome new décor. "[2] Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars, writing, "it's a pretty good one [thriller]", but that "its scares are on a much more basic level than in, say, a thriller by Hitchcock. "[3]

It was placed 272nd in Empire magazine's "500 Greatest Movies of All Time" list.[4]

Home media

The film was originally cut by 20 seconds for its US release and received a 'GP' rating, though it was later re-classified as 'PG'. The film was later released on DVD by VCI with the restored violence, but had problems with a sequence of shots referred to as "the panty removal scene". Later pressings fixed it. Blue Underground later obtained the rights and re-released the film completely uncut, adding an extra shot of violence previously unseen. The picture was completely restored and the sound was remixed into both 5.1 audio for both Italian and English tracks, but contained another soundtrack remixed into DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete in English.

Blue Underground released the film on Blu-ray on 24 February 2009. Tech specs saw a BD-50 dual-layer presentation with newly-remastered 1080p video and English audio tracks in DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 7.1 Surround and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 Surround plus the original Italian audio track. It is now out-of-print. VCI announced on their Facebook page that they plan to release the film on Blu-ray sometime soon.[5]

Alternate versions

References

External links