“The Bird With The Crystal Plumage” (1970)

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Before Suspiria, Tenebrae, Deep Red, and Opera would cement the legacy of Dario Argento. It was his first entry into his filmography, that would place him on the map. It would also give him the nickname of the “garlic flavored Hitchcock.” I am of course referring to his 1971 giallo film, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. Argento, who was already a well established film critic and screenwriter, was about to make one of the most impressive debuts upon the silver screen.

Much like a lot of other giallo films released during this time period, much of the story is ripped straight from the pages of yellow clad, seedy crime novels. Some of the other elements of the film, including wardrobe and murder sequences, were heavily inspired from the Mario Bava film, Blood And Black Lace. Although not entirely original in origin, Argento still managed to complete a film that unique, innovative and timeless.

The film opens with an American writer named Sam Dalmas, played by the late Tony Musante. Currently living in Rome, and suffering from writers block. While walking through the city streets, he passes an art gallery. After glancing inside he notices a young woman named Monica, trapped in a life or death struggle with an assailant, dressed in a black raincoat. In an attempt to help her, he enters the gallery, only to be trapped within a pair of sliding glass doors.

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Which is a motif that is present in a few of Argento’s films, especially in Opera. The actions of a character on screen, imitate the voyeurism of the audience members. Sam wants to help, but is trapped in a “box” and can only watch.

The police arrive, and decide to detain Dalmas as an important eyewitness. Even confiscating his passport, and preventing him from leaving the country. Setting up a common giallo plot theme, the ordinary person pulled into an investigation to help solve a crime. The films first act sets up the events that are to follow as the mystery unfolds.

Sam, trying to unravel the clues before the killer strikes again, comes across several interesting characters. From effeminate art gallery owners, degenerate cat-eating painters, and people who seem to want him dead. On the plus side however, the constant death threats, and close calls with a bullet have finally cured his writers block.

Eventually the identity of the assailant is revealed. Who might it be you ask? I’m not going to spoil the fun. I wouldn’t hand you a crime novel, and tell you immediately weather or not the butler did it. I’ll tell you this much ; The final standoff of this story, does take place where our story began. Sam and the knife wielding maniac face off against one another, in the same art gallery shown in the beginning of the film. The police do manage to intervene, at exactly the right moment and save the day. The film concludes with Sam and his girlfriend on a plane, heading back to America. In a slight homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, A doctor gives a report on Italian television, describing the psychological elements that drove the killers mind to turn to murder.

Aside from it’s thrilling plot, Ennio Morricone’s score, stunning camerawork, and gritty atmosphere, it also stands as a landmark of the giallo sub-genre. This is a film which is full of suspense, and heavily plot driven. Much of the violence isn’t shown but implied, and it’s almost impossible to turn away from the screen while watching it. As far as its influence goes, the french giallo picture The Strange Color Of Your Bodies’ Tears borrowed so heavily from this film, it’s almost laughable.

Side note: That film is horrible, don’t make the same mistake I did.

Sit down with this one if you have the time, you’ll be amazed.

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