Starring Tony Musante, Eva Renzi, Suzy Kendall, Mario Adorf
Directed by Dario Argento
Distributed by Arrow Video
The name Dario Argento not only brings the term giallo to mind immediately, but also inspires thoughts of black-gloved killers in well-suited jackets, thick atmosphere, red herrings, and brutal, sadistic violence. And music; glorious soundtracks often supplied by Goblin (or some variation thereof) or the maestro, Ennio Morricone, two of the biggest names in the game. His filmography is still wildly celebrated by horror fans and many critics – clearly, as this yet-another-re-release proves – but his pictures have also been criticized as preferring style to substance. And that is a valid complaint; however, his films didn’t start out that way. In fact, his debut feature as a director (he had been working as a writer for many years prior), The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), might be his most accessible and straightforward film. Using the story of an American visiting Europe – as he so often does – Argento tells a compelling, woven tale, filled with many of his trademarks, wrapped up beautifully with a clever twist. There is very little fat. Aside from the lack of supernatural elements and a flashier color palette, this is classic Argento all the way, right from the beginning.
Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is an American living in Rome, trying to get past a bout of writer’s block. He is considering leaving Italy and heading back to the U.S. but his plans change when during a walk home at night he witnesses an attack inside an art gallery. Sam is helpless as he becomes trapped between the doors of the glass entrance, unable to do anything but yell at passersby and watch as a villain clad in dark clothing tries to stab a woman. The killer succeeds and Sam can only watch the woman writhe until police arrive. Once they do, their prime suspect becomes the man who saw it all go down: Sam. The girl, Monica (Eva Renzi), luckily survives with superficial wounds to her abdomen.
The police have few clues to go on and their list of suspects totals over 150,000 people. Sam can’t shake what he saw that night, though, and so he takes it upon himself to investigate the attack; however, his unwanted involvement comes at a cost, and soon the killer is targeting Sam, too. This does not slow the mayhem down, either, and new victims are chosen frequently, each dying horrific deaths at the black-gloved hands of this unknown maniac. Eventually a minor break is given when the killer makes a call to taunt police and a strange, distinct “clicking” sound is heard in the background. But who knows what it is? Sam makes the decision to leave Rome after police finally clear his name, but the pull of solving this mystery gnaws at him and he soon gives in, spending the last few hours before his flight tracking down one final suspect who may have the answers he seeks.
Argento already had a hand in making a classic when he co-wrote the screenplay to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), an epic revenge tale that feels as grand as the West in which is takes place. It also happens to be in my top-three of all-time. When the time came for Argento to make his own picture, the results should not have surprised anyone. Bird is a seminal work in the giallo genre, this despite the fact Mario Bava, a legend in his own right, is the true progenitor of the giallo. But Bava had his own style and filmmaking method that was specific to his oeuvre, whereas the template Argento created inspired dozens of films that often liberally cribbed from his works. His name is synonymous with the movement.
Bird succeeds by allowing this grand enigma to be revealed organically, with less plot contrivances than most in this genre. This isn’t a film bogged down by its own sub-plotting and subterfuge but, rather, the classic murder mystery is an opportunity for Argento to open his new bag of cinema tricks and show audiences what he’s capable of behind the camera. The city streets are dripping with a baroque, Gothic atmosphere, offering up a sinister appearance even without the aid of a knife-wielding maniac. The murders are graphic and provoke a visceral response. People are not simply stabbed and killed; these deaths are often drawn out as the killer takes sadistic pleasure in tormenting and violating victims as life slowly drains away.
Visual impressions are one thing, but another staple of Argento’s filmography has always been his composer. His debut secured Italy’s greatest ever with Ennio Morricone, an unequaled legend who has scored over 400 pictures – and counting! I won’t claim this is some of Morricone’s best work because he has delivered stronger themes and choicer cues in other pictures but Morricone delivering a so-so score still trumps the best work of nearly all his contemporaries. Wordless choirs and lush, flowing instrumentation, beautiful melodies… all of The Maestro’s trappings are here for your audible pleasure.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage feels a bit like Argento playing it safe, slowly wading into directorial waters and testing his footing before making a much bigger splash with films like Deep Red (1975) and Suspiria (1977). Still, a close-to-the-vest approach works wonderfully in his favor because this is not only an impressive piece of cinema for a first-time director, but it also functions as the ideal entry point for fans looking to experience his work. Blue Underground previously issued the film on Blu-ray but it went out of print, fetching a king’s ransom on the secondary market. Another release by VCI was of poor quality. Arrow Video’s limited edition package is another stunning release, featuring not only a new 4K restoration but also a trove of bonus features and goodies, all housed within a striking package.
Let’s talk about the 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image. Lovingly restored, the original film negative has been given the deluxe 4K scan treatment and the results should make fans exceedingly happy. In a word: gorgeous. The picture is pristine, with virtually no evidence of dirt or debris to be seen. Colors are rendered with precision and a bold palette that wrings more vibrancy out of the image than ever before. Film grain appears smooth and cinematic, never clumping or appearing noisy even during the nighttime sequences. Black levels retain a richness and depth, with no wavering toward hazy or gray. Contrast is much more eye pleasing than on prior releases, likely coming closer to the theatrical exhibition than anything before. Only the most nitpicking naysayers will find something to complain about; every other fan will see this as the revelation it is.
The mono audio is available in either English or Italian, with a DTS-HD Master Audio track that more than ably carries every word of dialogue, screeching sound effect, and delicate note of Morricone’s score with ease. I did not detect any hisses or pops, nor any issues with sound emitting high in the mix. This is a clear track, produced with great fidelity. Subtitles are available in English.
Author Troy Howarth, of “So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo” fame, provides a scholarly audio commentary track.
“The Power of Perception” is a visual essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas that discusses Argento’s use of obfuscation and misdirection to keep viewers as in the dark as his leads.
“Black Gloves and Screaming Mimis” finds critic Kat Ellinger offering up her own analysis on this feature.
“Crystal Nightmare” is a new interview with Dario Argento, who seems happy to talk about the genesis of this project and the production, along with some recollections of his career as a whole.
“An Argento Icon” is a new interview with actor Gildo Di Marco. It is a bit dry but also a little fun, so there’s that.
“Eva’s Talking” is a 2005 interview with actress Eva Renzi.
Three trailers are included: Italian, International, and a 2017 Texas Frightmare trailer.
Additionally, this sexy set comes with the Blu-ray case housed within a sleek chipboard slipbox, with a two-sided foldout poster, lobby card reproductions, and a thick booklet full of writings, pictures, etc. found alongside it.
- Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the camera negative in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, produced by Arrow Video exclusively for this release
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
- English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
- New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
- The Power of Perception, a new visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Devil’s Advocates: Suspiria and Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study
- New analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger
- New interview with writer/director Dario Argento
- New interview with actor Gildo Di Marco (Garullo the pimp)
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp
- Double-sided fold-out poster
- 6 Lobby Card reproductions
- Limited edition 60-page booklet illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie, and new writing by Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook
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