Wednesday 20 June 2018

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage - film review

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage marked the debut in 1970 of Dario Argento as a film director. The movie was a big success, and he proceeded to become known as "the Italian Hitchcock", although as he has himself admitted, his output differs from Hitchcock's in many respects - even if both men are Catholics, with an acute sense of sin that is relevant to their work.

I find it interesting that Argento was inspired to write the film in part by Fredric Brown's excellent thriller The Screaming Mimi, and in part by the film The Spiral Staircase, based on a novel by Ethel Lina White. The connection between these works isn't obvious, but it is there for those who want to look for it - rather like well-hidden clues in a mystery.

Tony Musante plays Sam Dalmas, an American holidaying in Rome with his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall). Walking past an art gallery, he sees a bizarre sight - a woman is stabbed after grappling with a leather-clad assailant. His attempt to save her is thwarted, but even so, she survives. The Rome police are investigating a series of killings of women in the city, and Sam forms a bond with the chief detective, while pursuing an investigation of his own.

There are some gripping set piece scenes - for instance when a brutal hitman in a yellow jacket hunts Sam down in a coach park. Some of them are set in darkened rooms, with lights and telephone lines cut - yes, Argento plays around with cliches, but he does so in an arresting way. A soundtrack by Ennio Morricone offers a jaunty bonus to the action, and although the psychological explanation put forward for the crimes struck me as dodgy to say the least, I thought this film - which launched the "giallo" movement of lurid Italian crime films - was very watchable.


Maxim said...

It's Dario, not Daniel....

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Maxim. Brain fade!