Dario Argento’s first entry in his now beloved “Animal Trilogy”, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, is widely considered to be the blueprint for the giallo films of the seventies. Personally I don’t agree, as while this film did introduce many of the elements that would become commonplace in the genre, Bird isn’t nearly as delirious or bizarre as the films it would inspire. Tightly paced and plotted, Argento’s first film shares more in common with Hitchcock than Bido and Martino.
Sam Dalmas (Musante) is an American writer living out the remainder of his lease in Rome. While returning home one evening, Sam witnesses an attack on a woman in a gallery. Separated by panes of glass, Sam can only watch as the woman writhes in pain on the floor before him, while the gloved killer escapes. Luckily, the victim survives, and Sam is taken in as a witness even though he tells the police that he saw very little. The police think this is the work of a killer responsible for at least three other deaths, and the lead inspector, certain that something will eventually jog Sam’s memory, takes his passport and tells Sam that he must stay in Rome “a little longer” to help with the investigation. Sam takes it literally, and begins digging around himself, only to find himself a target of the killer as he gets closer to the truth.
If I were to say that The Bird with the Crystal Plumage were my favourite giallo, I’d be lying, for, as I said, I don’t really consider this film to be a giallo in the popular sense of the word. Yes, there are red herrings, and, yes, there’s a black gloved killer offing attractive young woman, but what’s missing is all of the gore, nudity, and just plain insanity that makes that genre such a hokey and deliberately guilty pleasure of mine. Now that’s not to say that Bird is a lesser film because of this; quite the opposite, Bird is a top-notch thriller. And, while it may have kicked off a particular breed of giallo film, I think that simply calling Bird a giallo is akin to calling Psycho a slasher. Bird is a film that is at once archetypical and antithetical. This is an elegant and graceful thriller that is amongst the most coherent to come out of Italy, as well as an important and effective debut for one of the country's most unique talents.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage arrives on Blu-ray in fine style, courtesy of Blue Underground and one heck of a nice looking transfer. While there's ample grain and "dirt" during the credits sequence (as is often the case with older films), once the action starts, the image cleans up nicely, with defined edges, vibrant colors, and wonderful detail and clarity. The image sports a fine cinematic grain that lends the transfer warmth, but never becomes a distraction. Blacks are bold and lush, and contrast is dead-on, even in the film's many dark and low light sequences.
Blue Underground once again pulls out the stops in terms of audio options, with two HD audio tracks, including a 7.1 DTS HD and a 7.1 Dolby Digital HD track. The score by Ennio Morricone sounds superb, but dialogue, while mixed right up front, is hindered by a touch of the same sort of distortion that hinders nearly all of the dubbed Italian features of the time. It's certainly been cleaned up about as best as can be, and I never had to struggle to understand what was being said, but I just figured it best that I point. While the mix is 7.1, much of the action is mixed to the front of the house, although there are some nicely implemented discrete effects that emerge from the satellites and the rears.
Blue Underground presents The Bird with the Crystal Plumage with the aformentioned 7.1 DTS HD and Dolby Digital HD tracks, as well as 5.1 Dolby Digital EX English audio track, a 5.1 Dolby Digital EX Italian track. In addition to a commentary by the ubiquitous Alan Jones (with Kim Newman), the Blu-ray also features these supplements carried over from Blue Underground's 2-Disc DVD:
• Out of the Shadows (Standard Definition)- Interview with Co-Writer/Director Dario Argento
• Painting With Darkness (Standard Definition)- Interview with Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro
• The Music of Murder (Standard Definition)- Interview with Composer Ennio Morricone
• Eva's Talking (Standard Definition)- A rather angry interview with Actress Eva Renzi, who blames everyone from her ex-husband to the entire country of Germany for her lackluster career following this film.
• Rounding out the extras are trailers and television spots.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a satisfying thriller that has sort of been lost amidst all of Argeno’s more revered works. While it’s not as visually impressive as films like Opera or Suspiria, the seed of that genius is definitely sewn here. This is easily the best the film has ever looked or sounded on any medium, and is reason enough for Argentophiles to consider an upgrade over their DVD versions.