Written and directed by Dario Argento, an American expatriate in Rome witnesses an attempted murder that is connected to an ongoing killing spree in the city, and conducts his own investigation despite himself and his girlfriend being targeted by the killer. Starring: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi and Umberto Raho.
Dario Argento is in a school of filmmakers whose style is immediately recognisable and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is certainly no exception. Visually it’s one of those films that so perfectly encapsulates its time period, you can feel that strong 70s atmosphere right off the bat and even more so when you realise that it falls on the thirsty side. Argento’s directorial style in this film is stunning, the balanced and symmetrical angles are stunning, immediately injecting the film’s energy with more tension. Especially when the location choices don’t feel that varied or exciting at times and yet his style offsets that to a point that you don’t notice it’s not capturing a more tourist friendly side. It also has the slightest touch of Hitchcock in how it builds its search for a killer.
Although it feels like the story at times doesn’t quite live up to the strength of its direction. It can be somewhat predictable and its built around a character who is rather arrogant, self-assured and overly calm and collected for a man who suddenly finds himself constantly facing death and danger. It does have that classic 70s pacing, it’s slow but purposeful, it takes its time and adds the occasional dose of thrill to keep you invested. It is a style that will work for some more than others, there isn’t a great deal happening. In comparison to Argento’s other work, it could be considered more tame and following a more traditional route.
This doesn’t feel like a film that’s very focused on its performances, it takes a route that’s more about the atmosphere they’re creating and the mystery or thrill than it is about its lead characters. Tony Musante’s Sam is a typically confident, successful character, he takes everything in his stride and his investment in the murders feels somewhat like Jake Gyllenhaal in Zodiac. Telling the story through his eyes adds a strong curiosity. Suzy Kendall’s Julia is sadly stereotypical and cliched, an overly emotional woman who’s glued to her man’s side and reticent to let him go into danger. Salerno’s Inspector Morosini is a fairly one noted character, he serves his purpose but he never truly gets too involved in the action. It’s a solid mix of actors but none of them stand out as utterly memorable performances.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is a great choice for recommending 70s cinema, it reflects Argento’s strengths as a director but wouldn’t be the top choice for an example of his writing talents. It’s an enjoyably dramatic ride, for anyone who loves murder-mystery thrillers and classic film, it’s the perfect storm.