Here it is, the one that started it all. Purists will argue that the first example of giallo cinema is Mario Bava’s THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1963), and that the subgenre was very much in existence prior to 1970, but Dario Argento’s debut feature is the movie that realy popularised it. THE BIRD WITH CRYSTAL PLUMAGE was such a massive success that the Italian film industry went completely nuts making a huge number of films with increasingly exotic, ludicrous and over the top titles (that were explained as close to the end of the film as possible) and dotty plotlines to match. Arrow Films are releasing BIRD in a special dual format set with plenty of new extras.
American Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is in Italy and suffering from writer’s block. One night, he witnesses what looks like a brutal attack on Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi) in an art gallery. It turns out there have been a number of murders in the city recently and Monica may have been the killer’s latest target. Sam decides to investigate, uncovering a plot that soon has the killer targeting him and his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall).
For a debut feature, BIRD WITH CRYSTAL PLUMAGE is remarkably assured and it’s not surprising it was a trend-setter. Plot takes a back seat to style, with some elegantly executed murder sequences, bizarre characters parts (all rather dated now) as red herrings, an itchy, gets under your skin music score from Ennio Morricone, and plenty of moments of genuine suspense. It’s also one of the few examples of giallo cinema to be based on an actual giallo novel (Fredric Brown’s The Screaming Mimi) and we even get to see some hanging up at a news-stand.
There’s also lashings of J&B scotch (quickly to become a giallo standby to raise cheers on any appearance), some utterly daft dimestore psychology, and a ‘pack your bags and run’ attitude to explaining what was going on (the plane is literally taking off and the end credits starting while whoever it is is still talking as if they’re hoping you’re already on your way out of the cinema and not paying too much attention).
Arrow’s dual format 4k transfer does look a lot better than previous transfers. Extras are all new stuff so if you’re a fan you’ll want this. These include a commentary from Troy Howarth (knowledgeable and always good to listen to), a visual essay on Argento’s cinema, new interviews with Argento and actor Gildo Di Marco who plays the pimp, and a new, well-informed and erudite 30 minute analysis of the film from Kat Ellinger. You also get a reversible sleeve and a 60 page booklet. It’s worth noting that the only material carried over from the previous Blue Underground release is an Eva Renzi interview from 2005. The rest hasn’t (Alan Jones / Kim Newman commentary, archival interviews with Morricone, Storaro, Argento) so you might want to hang onto it. You'll definitely want this new release, though.
Dario Argento's THE BIRD WITH CRYSTAL PLUMAGE is getting a special edition dual format release from Arrow on Monday 19th June 2017