THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1969) Reviews and overview


The Bird with the Crystal Plumage – aka L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo – is a 1969 (released February 1970) Italian Giallo thriller feature film written and directed by Dario Argento (Phenomena; Suspiria; Deep Red; et al), making his directorial debut. The movie stars Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall (Tales That Witness Madness; CrazeTorso) and Enrico Maria Salerno.

The film is an uncredited adaptation of Fredric Brown’s novel The Screaming Mimi, which had previously been made into a 1958 Hollywood movie of the same name title, directed by Gerd Oswald.

Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is an American writer living in Rome with his model girlfriend Giulia (Suzy Kendall). Suffering from writer’s block (“I haven’t written a line in two years”), Sam is on the verge of returning to America, but witnesses the attack of a woman in a modern 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…


On 19 June 2017, Arrow Video is releasing the film on Blu-ray + DVD with new artwork designed by Candice Tripp (and the original poster art on the reverse) and the following special features:

  • Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the camera negative in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, produced by Arrow Video exclusively for this release
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
  • Original mono Italian and English soundtracks (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
  • English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • New audio commentary by Troy Howarth, author of So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films
  • The Power of Perception, a new 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
  • New interview with writer/director Dario Argento
  • New interview with actor Gildo Di Marco (Garullo the pimp)
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp
  • 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

Reviews [click links to read more]:

“Argento never had a stronger plot than this one, which anchors his trademark visual flourishes into a recognizable thematic and human fabric that would later be jettisoned for the candy-colored fantasias of Suspiria and Inferno. Ennio Morricone’s groundbreaking, jittery score still manages to eke out every bit of suspense from the murder sequences, and the actors all do a fine job, partial dubbing notwithstanding.” Mondo Digital

” …while Argento’s fondness for all things psychological may not out-Freud Hitchcock, the film’s ending brings to mind Psycho‘s own. If Hitchcock’s ending needlessly showcases the Hitchcock’s fascination with psychoanalysis, Bird With the Crystal Plumage‘s ending is at least tidier and more poetic.” Slant magazine

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is frankly not the most innovative of mysteries, nor even the goriest of horror outings, but it’s quite notable for its oppressive sense of terror and subterfuge […] Argento manages to be both rather shockingly lurid (the final showdown between the killer and Sam is almost an exercise in outright sadism) and surprisingly restrained (the film is much less bloody than some might expect).”

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“What makes Argento’s thriller so groundbreaking is the way he makes clever use of suspense devices, such as a screaming Kendall trapped in a room while the killer hacks away at the door (much copied in films like The Shining and Halloween). Vital to Argento’s vision is Franco Fraticelli’s sharp editing skills and the impressive visuals of cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (who would go on to win an Oscar for Apocalypse Now). Plus, there’s Ennio Morricone’s unforgettable score.” Kultguy’s Keep

“Picking up on the ambitions of his one-time collaborator Sergio Leone, Argento sought to split the difference between art and exploitation with The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, and the result was one of the era’s signature films. It won over the arthouse crowd with its crisp, arid look, and it won over the mainstream crowd because it was as chic as Blow-Up, but easier to understand.” A.V. Club


“If you take the ending of the movie and really begin to break it down after watching the film it may not all add up to you. I wouldn’t go as far to say it’s silly but it’s not entire believable. None of that matters while watching the movie. Argento has you so hooked from the start that by the time you get to that payoff you’re willing to buy anything he sells.” Bloody Disgusting

“The various stalking scenes are handled with style and élan, and if the murders themselves are not as operatic and over-the-top in their savage intensity as they would be in later films, they are still loaded with wonderful touches and details which linger in the mind long after the film has finished.” Troy Howarth, So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films Volume One

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” …there’s a sense of humor that doesn’t lessen the suspense or creepy moments and both the development of the mystery and the juggling of the red herrings are competently handled […] All that said, this is neither inventive (conceptually, stylistically or otherwise) nor original enough to be the genre masterwork some make it out to be. It is simply a solidly-crafted, entertaining and above average film of its type.” The Bloody Pit of Horror

“Taking the lead from Mario Bava, Argento quickly established his trademark elements of beautifully staged set pieces, fetishizing graphic violence, and clever misdirection.” J.A. Kerswell, Teenage Wasteland: The Slasher Movie Uncut

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“This is a film that provides a segue from the noir genre that inspired it – the femme fatale and the amateur detective following her – to a new form of filmmaking and storytelling that seems equally inspired by Ennio Morricone’s jazz score (Argento often cut his films to his musical scores) and Freudian dream logic.” Electric Sheep

“The frequently misogynistic nastiness of Argento’s films was laid down in one set-piece here where a big-breasted woman is first seen undressing for bed and putting on a scanty night top and is then attacked by the killer who takes time out to rip off her top and panties with his knife before stabbing her, a clear example where her desirability is laid out for us before she is then slaughtered.” Moria

“The dialogue is sappy; the post-synchronization dreadful; the blood too thin; the moods too thick—and yet The Bird With the Crystal Plumage 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.” Vincent Canby, The New York Times, July 23, 1970

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is billed as a thriller, and it’s a pretty good one. But its scares are on a much more basic level than in, say, a thriller by Hitchcock. It works mostly by exploiting our fear of the dark.” Roger Ebert, October 14, 1970

Cast and characters:

  • 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 Fourth Victim
  • Omar Bonaro as Police Detective
  • Fulvio Mingozzi as Police Detective
  • Werner Peters as Antique Dealer
  • Karen Valenti as Tina, Fifth Victim
  • Carla Mancini as Girl in the street