The Bird With the Crystal Plumage

L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo

Director Dario Argento / 1970 / Italy

In Dario Argento’s assured and tense debut, an American expat in Rome is entangled in a serial killer’s web.

Sam Dalmas is a struggling writer living abroad with his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall, To Sir, With Love); he makes ends meet by writing manuals about the preservation of rare birds. One night, he walks past an art gallery and witnesses a brutal attack committed by a figure in a shiny black coat, wielding a knife. Haunted by what he has seen, he decides to help the police detectives on their hunt for the perpetrator, who has already murdered three other victims. Soon, Sam is sucked into a freakish world involving a cat-eating artist and a neurotic pimp, and becomes the killer’s number-one target.

Released in 1970, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage was an early template for giallo filmmaking, and would see Argento dubbed the “Italian Hitchcock”. Many of the subgenre’s lurid thrills are here: a disconcerting but stylish score (composed by Ennio Morricone, the subject of MIFF 2022 film Ennio), pitch-black humour, an abundance of glaring colour and a stark, sleek set design. The film would also be the first instalment in Argento’s ‘Animal’ trilogy, featuring a host of implicated witnesses, threatening murderers, mistaken identity and nail-biting suspense.

“Argento’s first film, which is astonishing considering its authority and polish … Sets the stage for the first wave of the director’s filmography.” – Slant


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