The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Italian: L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo) is a 1970 giallo film directed by Dario Argento, in his directorial debut. The film is considered a landmark in the Italian giallo genre. It is the first installment in the Animal Trilogy, and was followed by The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971) and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1972).
Written by Argento, the film is an uncredited adaptation of Fredric Brown's novel The Screaming Mimi, which had previously been made into a Hollywood film, Screaming Mimi (1958), directed by Gerd Oswald.
The film was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe award for best motion picture in 1971. The film was originally cut by 20 seconds for its US release and received a 'GP' rating, though it was later re-classified as 'PG'. It has since been released in the US uncut. Upon its release the film was a huge box office hit, grossing 1,650,000,000 Italian lira (roughly about $1 million US), twice the production cost of $500,000. The film was also a success outside of Italy, gaining €1,366,884 admissions in Spain.
Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is an American writer living in Rome with his model girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall). Suffering from writer's block, Sam is on the verge of returning to America, but witnesses the attack of a woman in an art gallery by a mysterious black-gloved assailant dressed in a raincoat.
Attempting to reach her, Sam is trapped between two mechanically-operated glass doors and can only watch as the villain makes his escape. The woman, Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi), the wife of the gallery's owner, Alberto Ranieri (Umberto Raho), survives the attack and the local police confiscates Sam's passport to stop him from leaving the country; the assailant is believed to be a serial killer who is killing young women across the city, and Sam is an important witness.
Sam is haunted by what he saw that night, feeling sure that some vital clue is evading him, and he decides to help Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno) in his investigation. He interviews the pimp of a murdered prostitute and visits a shop where another of the murdered women worked. There, he finds that the last thing she sold on the day she was murdered was a painting of a stark landscape featuring a man in a raincoat murdering a young woman. He visits the artist, but finds only another dead end. As he makes his way back to his apartment, Julia is attacked by the same black-gloved figure, but Sam arrives home just in time to save her and the assailant escapes.
Sam starts to receive menacing phone calls from the killer, from which the police manage to isolate an odd cricketing noise in the background, which is later revealed to be the call of a rare breed of bird from Siberia, called "The Bird with Crystal Plumage" due to the diaphanous glint of its feathers. This proves important since the only one of its kind in Rome is kept in the Italian capital's zoo, allowing Sam and the police to identify the killer's abode. There they once again find Monica Ranieri, this time struggling with her husband, Alberto, who is wielding a knife. After a short struggle, Alberto is dropped from six stories onto a concrete sidewalk below. As he dies, he confesses to the murders and tells them he loves his wife.
Finding that Julia and Monica have run off, Sam goes after them, eventually coming to a darkened building. There he finds his friend Garullo (Gildo Di Marco) murdered and Julia bound, gagged and wounded. The assailant emerges and is revealed as Monica Ranieri. Sam suddenly realises that he didn't actually miss anything during the first attack; he simply misinterpreted what he saw: the attack he witnessed in the gallery was not Monica being assaulted but rather Monica attacking her husband, who was wearing the raincoat. She flees and he pursues her to her art gallery. There, he is trapped, pinned to the floor by the release of a wall-sized sculpture of wire and metal. Unable to free himself, he becomes the prey of the person he was pursuing. This climax to the mystery, with strong sado-masochistic elements, has the knife-wielding Monica teasing Sam as she prepares to kill him. As she raises her knife, the police burst in and apprehend her, notified by Julia, who had escaped. Sam is freed and Monica is taken to a psychiatric hospital. The victim of a traumatic attack ten years before, seeing the painting of the murdered girl drove her mad, causing her to identify not with the victim but with the assailant. Alberto likewise suffered from an induced psychosis, helping her to cover up the murders and committing some himself. Sam and Julia are re-united and return to America.Tony Musante as Sam Dalmas
Suzy Kendall as Julia
Enrico Maria Salerno as Inspector Morosini
Eva Renzi as Monica Ranieri
Umberto Raho as Alberto Ranieri
Reggie Nalder as the assassin
Renato Romano as Professor Carlo Dover
Giuseppe Castellano as Monti
Mario Adorf as Berto Consalvi
Pino Patti as Faiena
Gildo Di Marco as Garullo
Rosita Torosh as 4th Victim
Omar Bonaro as Police Detective
Fulvio Mingozzi as Police Detective
Werner Peters as Antique Dealer
Karen Valenti as Tina, 5th Victim
Carla Mancini (girl in the street)
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was released in Italy with a 101-minute running time on 19 February 1970. It was released in Berlin Germany with a 94-minute running time at the Gloria-Palast on 24 June 1970.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage has been very well received by critics. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 92% based on twenty-four reviews, with the consensus "Combining a deadly thriller plot with the stylized violence that would become his trademark, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage marked an impressive horror debut for Dario Argento."The New York Times wrote, "[It] has the energy to support its elaborateness and the decency to display its devices with style. Something from each of its better models has stuck, and it is pleasant to rediscover old horrors in such handsome new décor. " Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars, writing, "it's a pretty good [thriller]", but that "its scares are on a much more basic level than in, say, a thriller by Hitchcock."
It was placed 272nd in Empire magazine's "500 Greatest Movies of All Time" list.
The film was originally cut by 20 seconds for its US release and received a 'GP' rating, though it was later re-classified as 'PG'. The film was later released on DVD by VCI with the restored violence, but had problems with a sequence of shots referred to as "the panty removal scene". Later pressings fixed it. Blue Underground later obtained the rights and re-released the film completely uncut, adding an extra shot of violence previously unseen. The picture was completely restored and the sound was remixed into both 5.1 audio for both Italian and English tracks, but contained another soundtrack remixed into DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete in English.
Blue Underground released the film on Blu-ray Disc on 24 February 2009. Tech specs saw a BD-50 dual-layer presentation with newly remastered 1080p video and English audio tracks in DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 7.1 Surround and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 Surround plus the original Italian audio track. It is now out-of-print. VCI announced on their Facebook page that they plan to release the film on Blu-ray Disc sometime soon and was released on September 12, 2013.
Arrow released the film on Blu-ray in the UK on June 13, 2011 but drew some criticism due to the film being cropped to 2.00:1 (which is director of photography Vittorio Storaro's current Univisium aspect ratio). In June 2017, Arrow re-released the film on a limited edition Blu-ray/DVD combo pack in the US and the UK containing a remastered 4K transfer from the original camera negative made exclusively for the release.