The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970)

If Don’t Torture a Duckling was an example of giallo walking a different path, then The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is where that path got defined, at least in part. Released in 1970 and set in Rome, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage follows an American writer suffering from writer’s block and contemplating a return to America who becomes embroiled in the investigation of a local killer. Of course, this is giallo and things are never quite that simple, but the plot is noticeably more coherent and easier to follow when you compare it to some of its comrades, so if you are looking for “the shallow end” to jump in and start watching this kind of film, this would/could/should be it.

Sam is walking the streets of Rome one night in a stylish leather jacket (not as stylish as the canary yellow leather that shows up later on, but a good coat none the less) when he witnesses a trench-coated figure attacking a woman in an art gallery. Coming to her aid, Sam attempts to get through a set of glass walls only to get himself trapped between them, where he is witness the completion of the attempted murder. Still stuck in the glass box, Sam slumps to the ground and awaits the police. The post murder scene was one of the most striking scenes in the film for me, that doesn’t involve blood or a knife. The complete lack of any sound is truly deafening and puts you right in that glass box with him.

Sam, being the only witness to the crime and a potential suspect, has his passport taken so he cannot leave the country while the investigation is happening. The police believe that the attempted murder witnessed by Sam is just the latest in a string of murders that have plagued the city for the last few months. With nothing else to do and haunted by what he saw, Sam takes it upon himself to assist the inspector in the investigations, interviewing people and going to murder sites himself to gather whatever evidence he can. A creepy painting comes into play around this point, depicting a man in a murdering a young woman on top of a hill. Sam, like anyone who has just witnessed an attempted murder and is being held in a country not his own for potential involvement in said murder hangs this painting up in his living room. I can only assume this would allow for full immersion into obsession but it probably also helps to clear out those stragglers who just won’t leave at the end of the night. Mysterious and threatening phone calls to Sam plus a failed visit from the killer themselves push the police into further investigations that eventually lead them to a house near the zoo, which ties in the titular bird with the crystalline feathers. The ending of Bird has enough of a twist ( done in typical giallo style of course) that you’ll be fairly satisfied, a feeling many giallo can’t offer.

Another release from Arrow, they are quickly becoming a go to for collectors of giallo movies, with multiple high quality releases of genre staples over the last 12 months. The transfer is bright and crisp for the most part, never overly noisy or grainy with no colour issues. As usual, there a a load of special features including new interviews with director Dario Aregento and cast members, a video essay on the impact of Argento’s work, and newly recorded audio commentary with Roy Howarth, author of “So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films”. Pick up a copy direct from Arrow Video here and always remember to try not get trapped under glass while being a good samaritan.

-Scott (@scottfloronic)

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