The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L’ucello dalle piume di cristallo)

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

I’m getting closer to the truth every minute.

Giallo film is one of those hazily-defined genres of cinema, where the borders between it and the other genres that are close to it are so murky that it is all too easy to mistake other films as giallo films, and vice versa. It’s made even more annoying that the American take on the genre of giallo and the Italian usage of the word differ just enough to throw even more confusion into the mix. After watching Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, considered one of the pioneering works of giallo, here’s what I came up with: Giallo films are murder mysteries/thrillers, with just a touch of Italian psycho-sexual drama thrown in for taste and color. By that definition, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a pretty standard giallo film, though how much better it is than other examples of the genre is up for debate.

Sam Dalmas is an American, who is currently in Italy with his girlfriend Giulia, suffering a bit of writer’s block. It’s when he is walking home one night that he comes across a murder attempt taking place in an art gallery, which he intervenes, only barely saving the life of the museum owner’s wife, Monica. Feeling involved more than he already is, he takes it upon himself to aid the police investigation, as well as do some amateur sleuthing on his own, to try and find out who the murderer is, while the unseen assailant begins to target Sam and Giulia as well. Really, the only thing I can do with this film is try and compare it to Argento’s later work, Suspiria, since the film itself has very few notable features to it. Being Argento’s debut film, this is basically the director trying to establish himself and his style, even if he isn’t yet fully sure of how to do so. There’s some nice camera setups and shots, along with some effective lighting setups, though I think Argento kinda went a little excessive with the numerous zoom shots he has in this one. The main notable aspect was the score, and surprise surprise, it’s Ennio Morricone behind the weirdly erotic undertones of the music, which seems to fit perfectly with the material. Heads up, though; the film was shot in English, and then later overdubbed in both Italian and English, a la Fitzcarraldo, so you’ll be getting some poor overdubbing either way you go.

While Suspiria was mostly eye candy, this was almost all solid plot, so much so that it actually began to baffle me how Argento could go from making a film like this to a film like Suspiria. The visual and audio touches, however, were mostly kept to Argento’s standards, even if Suspiria, the latter of his works on the list, would take them to the umpteenth degree and then some; you can still tell, even in this, that he has a style he wants to try and set up. I’m not really sure how to go about recommending this one. Really, I’m not even sure it should be on the list at all; it’s a pretty standard murder mystery that just happens to be Italian, and that’s really all that can be said about it. I don’t even know if this a good example of a giallo film; I just do not know how to go about this one. It’ll entertain, at the very least, but there’s nothing “must see” about this.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10


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