Blu-ray: The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (Limited Editon)

Dario Argento didn’t invent the giallo film, but he made the film that made the genre an international sensation. After Argento’s Bird with the Crystal Plumage was released, Italian producers were eager to made mysterious slasher films and distributors retitle their films to include a colorful animal. Argento had been toiling as a screenwriter in the Spaghetti Westerns including Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time in the West. Now he was the leader of a genre that wouldn’t dry up until the last victim was stabbed. Bird with the Crystal Plumage remains an impressive first film even after you find out the real killer.

Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is ready to head back to America after his visit to Italy has turned out to be creatively fruitless. The only thing the writer did was scribble out a bird book instead of a novel. Sure he has an English model girlfriend (Suzy Kendall). While taking a stroll on one of his final nights in the Eternal City, he witness a woman being stabbed by a stranger in leather inside a modern art gallery. Sam runs up to the building to help her, but he gets trapped in the glass doors at the entrance. He stares helpless at the violence and the woman (Eva Renzi) bleeds on the floor while the killer escapes. The police finally arrive and free Sam from his glass cage. The stabbed woman gets treatment as Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno) wants more information from Sam. Turns out the killer is suspected of being a seral killer that’s been attacking female employees of shops in the area. He nabs Sam’s passport to make sure his star witness doesn’t fly home. Sam can’t wait for the police to solve the case since he has a plane to catch and he has the fear that the killer wants to clean up his loose end. He’s either going to come out of this mystery with a great crime novel or a chalk outlined corpse.

Bird with a Crystal Plumage has just the right amount of twist and turns to make things exciting and tense. It also has enough bloody gore on the screen to be more than just a Perry Mason mystery. It’s no wonder that Alfred Hitchcock was impressed by what he saw on the screen. Argento knew what he was doing on his first film because he hired two key contributors that brought so much. First is cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. He is a legend behind the lens and he does more than lights for a typical genre film. The second is composer Ennio Morricone whose score heightens tension at just the right moments. You don’t want to take your eyes or ears off the screen when the film begins. Argento adds his own touch to the film since this is where he began the tradition of being the hands inside the black gloves for the close up of homicides. Bird With the Crystal Plumage was born to soar.

There’s only 4,000 copies of the Limited Edition so if you’re the slightest bit curious, order now. Supposedly a majority have already been snatched up.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The transfer brings out the beauty of Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography. The details and shadows can be fully appreciated compared to previous releases. The audio is DTS-HD MA Mono for both the English and Italian versions. Since the films features a international cast, odds are high that both soundtracks for the films were dubbed in post-production. Tony Musante is American so that’s probably not his voice on the Italian track. The film has English subtitles.

DVD has all features of the Blu-ray.

Audio Commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films is very informative. Howarth’s coverage of the genre gives him a great view of Argento’s impact. He remembers the old faded pan and scan VHS copy that really doesn’t reveal the greatness given by this Blu-ray transfer.

The Power of Perception (20:57) is a visual essay on the cinema of Dario Argento by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, author of Devil’s Advocates: Suspiria and Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study. It’s refreshing to have a film academic discuss the movie. It takes me back to film school except none of my instructors wanted to get too heady about slasher flicks not made by Hitchcock. She does mention that Fredric Brown’s book was given to him by Bernardo Bertolucci.

Black Gloves and Screaming Mimis (31:54) is an analysis of the film by critic Kat Ellinger. She discusses how Argento adapted Fredric Brown’s novel The Screaming Mimi into Bird that had been made into a movie in 1958. She compares and contrasts the book’s scenes with Argento’s cinematic vision. She sets up the elements in his first film that he refined over Argento’s career.

Crystal Nightmare (31:24) is a recent interview with writer/director Dario Argento where he talks of Brown’s book and the visions it gave him. He wasn’t sure if he’d be given a chance to direct or be stuck as screenwriter again. Argento talks in Italian with English subtitles so play this feature when you have time to focus on the screen.

An Argento Icon (22:05) chats with actor Gildo Di Marco (Garullo the pimp). He got into showbiz thanks to be a rescue worker at an earthquake. He covers his early career included getting to work with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer.

Eva’s Talking (11:19) sits down with actress Eva Renzi in 2005. She was supposed to make House of Cards with Orson Welles, but her husband got her fired and she ended up in Bird. Her career started with Michael Caine’s Funeral in Berlin and then she turned down a Bond role. She still can play a bit of her role. She died in 2005.

Trailers are provided for Italian and International release along with a recent Texas Frightmare showing. The trailers play with the fact that Hitchcock was impressed by the film. Who needs the New York Times when the master praises your work.

Double-sided fold-out poster featuring 6 Lobby Card reproductions.

Limited edition 60-page booklet illustrated by Matthew Griffin, featuring an appreciation of the film by Michael Mackenzie, and new writing by Howard Hughes and Jack Seabrook.

Arrow Video presents The Bird With The Crystal Plummage. Directed by: Dario Argento. Screenplay by: Dario Argento. Starring: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Eva Renzi. Rated: R. Running Time: 96 minutes. Released: June 20, 2017.

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