The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970)

OCTOBER 25, 2008


If one were to see a modern Argento film and decide to start seeing his older films, I would recommend they see The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (Italian: L'Uccello Dalle Piume Di Cristallo) sooner rather than later. Not that it’s a bad film by any means, but it was the first of what would be several Argento films in which a traveling American witnesses a murder and becomes entwined with the police investigation as more murders pile up. Having already seen Deep Red and Tenebrae, a lot of the impact of the more simplistic and crude Plumage was lessened; it would have been nice to see him refine the formula in the later films by seeing them “in order”. Oh well.

Like those other films, our hero is briefly a suspect, though thankfully not for the entire time. In fact, one of the things I like most about the film was the minor friendship that develops between Sam (the American) and the head police investigator. I suspect that the two of them probably still exchange Christmas cards.

And of course, the murder scenes, while not as plentiful here as in the others, are pretty great. There’s a home invasion one about halfway through, and the attack of Sam’s girlfriend is one of Argento’s finest setpieces of its type. Also, while the reveal of the killer is a bit on the silly side, it’s a pretty straightforward movie; there’s none of the trademark nonsense so prevalent in his later films. There’s a guy who eats cats, but that’s about it. And that’s actually played for humor – an element that is actually pretty rare (intentional humor anyway) in his films, particularly the giallos.

Speaking of animals, the bird of the title is actually pretty inconsequential to the plot. It’s a hint about a red herring. Why he decided to name the movie after something that could almost be cut from the movie is beyond me; it would be like Hitchcock naming his movie after the bank that Janet Leigh works at instead of Psycho.

Maybe he should have named the movie “The Differences Between Trannies and Pervs”, because that is the subject of my favorite part of the film. The cops assemble a lineup of perverts to see if the hero recognizes any, and a tranny named “Ursula Andress” is brought in. Suddenly, the chief guy yells “No! How many times do I have to tell you, she belongs with the transvestites!” This is pretty awesome, because a. it suggests that they have a stock group of criminals that are roaming the streets and always available for a lineup, and b. we can assume that this entirely English-speaking section of Italy has a need for a group of transvestite murder suspects.

I can only hope that the DVD released by Blue Underground is an improvement on this. The non-anamorphic transfer wasn’t too surprising, but this fucking thing didn’t even have a menu. Hitting “menu” just restarted the movie, and when the movie was over, the disc just stopped entirely. It also has a barcode on the actual disc, so maybe the damn thing didn’t even have a real case. It was released by Westlake Entertainment, whoever the fuck they are. Then again, I am so busy lately, I wouldn’t have time for a commentary or anything, so I guess in the end it’s OK to have such a barebones release. If the BG release has any “must see” extras, please let me know.

What say you?


  1. I liked this one a lot.

    Doesn't it also have an Ennio Morricone soundtrack? I'm surprised you didn't mention that as you seem to pay a lot of attention to the music in the movies you watch.

    This film was the first of Argento's so called "animal trilogy" (continued with Cat O' Nine tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet, both of which are similar giallos). I think it was also his first film as director.

    The end scene in Suspiria also references this movie when Jessica Harper is going into the witch's lair. One of the deocrations is a very fancy crystal bird which I think she bumps into (if memory serves, which quite often it doesn't).

  2. I think this is one of Argento's better plotted films, extremely suspenseful and stylish and a very promising debut for the Maestro. That taunting soundtrack has always given me the creeps as well. Unforgettable giallo.


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