The Bird with the Crystal Plumage  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo) is a 1970 giallo suspense thriller directed by Dario Argento (his directorial debut). The film is considered a landmark in the Italian giallo genre. Written by director 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). The OST is by Ennio Morricone and the twist ending improbable.

Contents

Awards and box office

The film was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe award for best motion picture in 1971.

It was awarded 272nd place on Empire Magazine's 500 greatest movies of all time list. Upon its release the film was a huge Box Office hit grossing 1,650,000,000 Italian Lira (roughly about $1 million) twice the production cost of $500,000. The film was also a success outside of Italy gaining 1,366,884 admissions in Spain.

Censorship

The film was originally cut by 20 seconds for its US release and received a GP rating, though it was later re-classified as a PG. It has since been released in the US uncut.

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.

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).

Cast

Trivia

  • This film set up many elements that would become common in Argento's films: The leading character is an artist, the gloved killer, whispered threats, a character recalls clues from memory etc.
  • The first installment of Argento's Animal Trilogy (a trilogy of giallo films with animals in their titles). The trilogy includes The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971), and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971).
  • Shot in just six weeks.
  • At one point an executive producer wanted Dario Argento removed from the production when he was disappointed by a screening of some dailies. When Argento's father Salvatore Argento went to the exec's office to talk to him he found the exec's secretary visibly shaken. When he asked the secretary what was troubling her she said she saw the screening and the footage terrified her. Salvatore Argento then asked her to go tell her boss about her reaction to the screening. She convinced the executive to keep Dario Argento on as director.

Alternate Versions

  • West German theatrical version was cut by ca. 10 minutes (plot scenes). For TV broadcasting these scenes were reinserted but the violent scenes were trimmed instead.
  • When inspector Morosini meets Sam at the hospital after he's escaped from the hired killer, he asks him if he could recognize him. In the US version he says he couldn't, explaining he didn't see his face clearly; in the Italian version he says yes because "You don't easily forget a face like that"
  • Initial pressings of VCI Entertainment's DVD release incorrectly restored part of the "panty murder" sequence. The shot of the killer holding the panties was re-inserted *before* he actually removes them from his victim. Some of the more recent pressings of the DVD have the scene restored correctly, in the proper order.

DVD

In the US, 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. It was later when Blue Underground obtained the rights and re-released the film showing it completely fully uncut plus an extra shot of violence previously unseen. It was completely restored in picture and the sound was remixed into both 5.1 audio for both Italian and English, but contained another soundtrack remixed into DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete in English.

Blue Underground has confirmed a 24 February 2009 release on Blu-ray. Tech specs will see 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. The original Italian audio track is also set for inclusion.





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Bird with the Crystal Plumage" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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