The Bird With The Crystal Plumage

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1969)
Magic Lantern (VCI)
Cast: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Isolated Soundtrack

In 1969, Italian writer and director Dario Argento released his first film and immediately garnered accolades for his highly suspenseful thriller. The movie was "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage" and has single-handedly created a genre of its own, that has since been visited and re-visited by numerous "giallo" films from Argento and other filmmakers. After numerous delays, VCI Home Video has now released Argento’s directorial debut on DVD, and in anticipation I was looking forward to give the disc a thorough check-up.

American novelist Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is spending some time in Rome when one night he is witnessing an attempted murder inside a deserted gallery through the glass windows. A man in a raincoat with black gloves is slashing away at a helpless woman (Suzy Kendall), but when the assailant realizes he is being observed, he quickly flees the scene.

Soon the Police arrive on the scene and start investigating the case but they are soon stuck in their own tracks. While observing the attack Sam always had the feeling something was not right with his observations, but he just can’t put his finger on what it is. He starts digging in the case by himself and during his personal investigations, nearly loses his own life.

Although the plots in the "giallo" genre hardly vary and often present the same outset, the twists in the plots are unpredictable for the most part, jolting the viewer from one side to the other. Giallos also invite viewers to play their own detective games, trying to figure out who the gloves killer ultimately is and how all the pieces of the puzzle we are presented with fit together. With "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage" Argento has proven that he is the master of the genre, and although the initial plots of this film and the later Dario Argento movie "Tenebrae" are almost identical, they both shoot off into different directions. They tell highly individual stories, and most importantly, come to exceptionally different conclusions.

Throughout the film I found myself curiously intrigued and mysteriously involved in the film, constantly trying to figure out, which of the characters in the film the killer is. The resolution of "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage" will probably come to most viewers as an absolute surprise because things doesn’t seem to match up, until Argento supplies one vital clue in his story. It puts a highlight on the film and has viewers walk away form it with a very satisfied feeling, thinking "that’s what it was…"

The movie makes great use of the location, Rome, and has aged rather well. Although the clothing, the color schemes and the cars are obviously outdated, the Jack-The-Ripper type of story and the beautiful photography appears almost timeless. With incredible delicacy, Argento composes pictures and cuts that create a dark and threatening atmosphere of the stalking scenes, yet also very bright and inviting images of the Mediterranean capital when things are less intimidating. The film’s pacing is meticulous, always keeping viewers on the edge, but at the same time leaving enough room for the viewer to follow the thread in his or her mind, trying to put things in context in an attempt to solve the crimes before the film’s protagonist does.

VCI Home Video has created a brand-new <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer of the movie for this DVD. It presents the unrated, 98-minute version of the film in its original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio that brings out the best of Argento’s skillfull picture framing and the movie’s cinematography. Although generally clean and without distracting defects, unfortunately the transfer exhibits some problems that mostly result from the incorrectly set up black level of the transfer. Black never appear black but as dark grays throughout the presentation. As a result the film’s contrast is hampered, creating a flat looking image without the depth of solid shadows.

The color reproduction is also affected as a result, giving "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage" a washed-out look. Due to the black level problem, the transfer exhibits signs of dot crawl and <$pixelation,pixelation> since much of the available bandwidth of the compression is spent coding/decoding redundant "black noise" rather than relevant picture information. Nonetheless, I found the presentation of "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage" enjoyable and never truly distracting from the gripping movie. You can tell that the 16×9 re-mastering has helped to create a clean and stable image throughout the film for what would otherwise undoubtedly be a transfer with many film artifacts and defects.

The disc contains a re-mixed <$DS,Dolby Surround> soundtrack. The soundtrack sounds a bit muffled and shelved for the most part, although it feels much more attached to the actual images than dubs I have seen in many other movies before. The film is sporting a great music score by Ennio Morricone that helps immensely to emphasize the pictures and atmospheres Argento is creating with is camera. The DVD contains the movie’s trailer and biographies for Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall and Dario Argento. As a special feature, the disc also contains the movie’s soundtrack in an isolated presentation, featuring 12 tracks from the movie’s score that are individually accessible from the disc’s menus.

"The Bird With The Crystal Plumage" is a great movie and no fan of Argento’s work, or well-made thrillers in general for that matter, should miss this opportunity to see this new presentation of the movie on this DVD. It may not be flawless, but regardless, this is a great opportunity to experience one of his early masterpieces. I had not seen this movie before and I was quickly put under the spell of this masterfully crafted film.