Monday, 18 March 2013

Review - The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970 - Dir. Dario Argento)

This is Dario's first film as a director and it hints at the things to come in his later work (including the glorious murdering gloves). Not yet fully formed but the visual flourishes are already present, as opposed to the total lack of gore. Blood, yes. Gore, no. 

Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) witnesses an attempted murder and is unable to help as he is trapped in between two glass sliding doors. The police arrive, let him out and give him a mild grilling. They soon lose interest in him as a suspect and he is left to his own devices, becoming an amateur detective trying to track down the killer. He is plagued by the fact that he's sure he saw something that night that just doesn't seem right...

If you've seen Deep Red you will recognise that last sentence. It's exactly the same idea but here it is a feels like a bit of a cheat. In Deep Red you can go back and actually see the clue that the character missed. Here, you can't. It is cleverly staged but not as satisfying as his later film.

At the time The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was very well received and opened the floodgates for other Italian gialli. This is the first time I've seen it and I can understand why it did well and has been influential. But I think it pales in comparison to Deep Red. For me, it's missing the unnerving atmosphere and the engaging characters. Plus, despite being cut a fair bit back in the day, it is incredibly tame now. The entertainment value hinges on the mystery, the clues and the quirky supporting characters. 

Because it's Dario you know there are going to be some great set pieces and yep, there are. The initial attempted murder is a standout sequence, as is a scene where the killer hires a hitman (?) to take out Sam. The chase takes us through a bus station and then into the streets of Rome. It has a pretty good punchline too.

Having spawned many imitators, such as Lizard in a Woman's Skin, this is a film that lovers of gialli should watch. Prepare yourself for a lack of gore and it's a well made thriller. But if you're new to this sub-genre give Deep Red a go instead first.

If you liked this you could also try:
Deep Red, Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Four Flies on Grey Velvet.


  1. I actually thought this was really good, maybe because it was my first giallo film. It held my interest throughout.
    I can see what you mean that Deep Red is stronger, in that you can go back and actually see the clue.

    1. I think that Deep Red keeps growing on me over time. I enjoy it more each time I watch it. I think I can feel a giallo season coming soon. Or an Argento season. Maybe both...