The Bird with the Crystal Plumage - Monica pleads for help

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) – Brilliant Argento, Classic Giallo


As of late, Malevolent Dark has been descending into a deep dark hole of Italian thrillers called giallo, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1971) represents an early work by Italian horror master Dario Argento. Being his directorial debut, it also represents Dario Argento’s first foray into the giallo sub-genre. While this film is not Argento’s best work, but possibly possibly, it may represent one of the most pure examples of the giallo film while also foreshadowing the future of the sub-genre.

Tracing the Evolution of Giallo

This article will not detail the giallo and its usual characteristics as this has been a topic of other Malevolent Dark articles. Furthermore, there are great sources lying just on the other side of a Google search. From a historical perspective, Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963often gets credited as the first film to bring all of the giallo characteristics into a single film. Mario Bava clearly takes several cues from Alfred Hitchcock’s work and the results largely take the audience to the same place. The Girl Who Knew Too Much is a fantastic thriller and a great film, but it lacks much of the panache that will later exemplify the giallo as an art form.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage - Sam Dalmas witnessing attempted murder
Sam Dalmas bangs helplessly on the glass as Monica bleeds

Transcending Hitchcock

Dario Argento’s the Bird with the Crystal Plumage provides the unifying thread that would connect early giallos with the fantastically stylized gore festivals that would become famous in the 70’s and 80’s. In this film, Argento embodies the spirt of the suspenseful thriller, while pushing the boundaries of violence. Certainly, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage pales in comparison to the films that would succeed it, but blood is red and the slashes of the razor cut deep. Eventually, Argento would go on to create even more conceited works of stylized violence, but for his first film, Argento offers an intriguing glimpse into the future of Italian horror.

The Biord with the Crystal Plumage - More wonderful photography by Argento
Another towering Argento signature shot hovering over the scene of the crime

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage – Synopsis

The film covers a American writer named Sam Dalmas. Sam vacations in Italy with his girlfriend named Julia. One evening, Sam Dalmas witnesses an attempted murder taking place at an art gallery. Dalmas find himself trapped between a set of electronically operated glass doors and he can only watch helplessly as the attacker makes his escape. The victim, Monica Ranieri, is the wife of gallery owner Alberto Ranieri. Monica survives the attack. The police, seize Dalmas’ passport as he is the only witness to the crime.

As it turns out, the attack on Monica is not an isolated incident. Murders continue to plague young woman as the police try in vain to solve the crimes. Sam Dalmas and Julia get pulled deeper and deeper into the mystery and ultimately end up in a cat and mouse game with the killer. Emboldened, the killer calls Sam to taunt him. During the call, the police identify the call of a rare Siberian bird called “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage”. Only one of these rare birds exists in all of Rome. The police quickly descend on the killer, neutralizing the threat, or so they think.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage - Monica pleads for help
Monica crawls across the floor as Sam watches helplessly

Black Gloves, Black Hat, Black Coat

Argento places a premium on killer characteristics that consistently reappear in his later works. It starts with black leather gloves that hide identifying details about the killer. The murderer wears a dark fedora hat while wrapping tight in a long trench coat. The killer speaks in a strained voice, taunting both the victims and police. While the giallo does not require the killer to fit this mold, this model for murder permeates the works of Dario Argento through Deep Red (1975), Tenebrae (1982) and Opera (1987). His template provides visual trademark that stands out against the work of his peers.

A Menagerie of Personalities

Dario Argento hangs his tightly woven tale of suspense on a backdrop of interesting characters that fill in the voids left by Argento’s slow but deliberate pacing. Sam Dalmas meets an eccentric painter named Berto Consalvi that captured a murder in oil paint and canvas. Berto herds cats and hides away in an attic only accessible by ladder. Friends that casually watch as Sam and Julia get it on. A retired prize fighter chases Dalmas through town with a silenced pistol. A stuttering prison bound pimp provides clues to the identity of the killer.

Finally, and most importantly, Argento creates a killer with a backstory, and it takes several unique twists and turns to uncover the nature of the crimes. In the end, he creates what amounts to a live action Dick Tracy comic strip.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage - Argento's prototypical killer
Black gloves, black hat, black coat, red blood

The Genre with the Crystal Future

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage would serve as the opening salvo of a storied film career for Argento. All things considered, this film proves extremely conservative to more ambitious works of Argento. Consummate professional, Ennio Morricone would later give way to the flashier sounds of Claudio Simonetti. The soft splashes of red would turn to buckets of blood. Nonetheless, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is very important to the development of the giallo as a form of high-art. More importantly, it provides a crucial bridge that crosses the chasm between Hitchcockian black and white thrillers and a new world painted in deep crimson.

The Rundown

While a very important film, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage may not resonate with hardcore Italian horror fans. The film leans far more towards mystery and suspense. However, students of what would eventually become the horror themed giallo should look to the early works to understand how they came to be. This film represents one of the best examples of a pure giallo film. When it comes to building suspense and providing a thrilling entertainment experience, this film delivers the goods.

For the fans that are only in it for the kills, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage may leave something to be desired. However, fans of film that love brilliant cinematography, strong plots and great twists will not be disappointed. Malevolent Dark considers it to be a classic among classics.

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) - Brilliant Argento, Classic Giallo - Malevolent Dark
bird with the crystal plumage monica pleads for help

Director: Dario Argento

Date Created: 1970-01-01 00:33

Editor's Rating:

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