Plot Outline: Sam Dalmas is an American writer spending some time in Rome with his girlfriend and trying to jump start the creative process. While walking home one night he sees a woman being assaulted in a art gallery, he tries to get in the gallery but he is locked in between the two glass doors that lead inside. He finally gets the police, and discovers that the same man responsible for the attempted murder of the woman in the gallery has also killed several other women throughout the country. The lead investigator takes away Sam’s passport and is told he cannot leave the country until everything is resolved. Rather than spending time sitting around the pool like most vacationers, Sam decides to open his own investigation. This investigation gets him close to the truth, but also gets the killer’s attention as both Sam and his lovely young girlfriend are wrapped up in a world of danger and intrigue.


The Review
I believe it was Mike Bracken (from The Horror, a great film reviewer) who once said that he felt Dario Argento’s lack of success to garner an audience in the US (this was for a review of Trauma if memory serves) was because his films made audiences feel as if they had been cheated. His twist endings, and the conclusions to his Gialli tend to be pretty much unsolvable riddles due to their far-out-from-left-field nature. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage doesn’t actually disprove Bracken’s theory either. Argento’s films usually have a killer who doesn’t have much screen time and wouldn’t have much (if any) discernible motive. Certainly not one that could possibly be apparent to the viewer. His endings tend to wrap themselves up in a matter of ten minutes or so, and usually leave gaping plot holes that go completely unanswered. To be fair this is a generalization that could easily be levied over the entire giallo genre, and not just those that Argento crafted. Even though the riddles generally aren’t very fair, it’s not all bad though when you think about it. This style should be applauded in some instances even! Far too many times have I seen film fans complaining about how derivative and predictable most thriller/mysteries are these days, Argento (and the giallo by extension) is the complete opposite of that. They may not make sense, but at least you’ll have a harder time guessing the killer. I have found that the giallo is a far more entertaining subgenre of Italian cinema once you stop trying to guess who the killer is. It allows you to take in all of the beauty without focusing so heavy on your own predictions.

What I think sets Argento apart from some of the directors of his time and era is the fact that he truly understood the language of film. No offense to Fulci, Deodatto and the like. It’s just, I consider Argento as more of an artist than those directors were. While they strove to make the most hedonistic and violent pictures they could make, Argento was really more relaxed with his onscreen violence. He used it of course, but Argento’s bloody work never seemed like the only thing that held his films together. He always had an interesting story, and more often than not, some amazing if not acrobatic camerawork. Coupled with a brilliant sense of color, Argento just couldn’t be duplicated. I realize I’m speaking of him as if he’s dead at this points, but I’m just not sure how well his work holds up today. I’ve only read reviews, so I’ll try not to judge until I’m able to get around to watching Sleepless. Even though Argento’s career was basically just beginning, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage actually stands up quite well to his later and more daring work. From the very beginning of the film I was hooked, the amazing scene where Sam has to stand and watch as a lovely young woman bleeds on the carpet of her art gallery is something that sticks in your mind long after watching the movie. Stuck between two glass doors, Sam has nowhere to go. Argento takes voyeurism to its most extreme levels and directly reaches out to the audience who are also forced to endure the violence. The sequence is made dream-like due to the impossibly white carpet and brilliantly lit set pieces. It isn’t outside the realm of possibility that such a set could actually exist in the real world, but it is so impeccable that such beauty simply isn’t common.

Usually in a film like this I wouldn’t think much of the actors, but I must say I was impressed with Tony Musante. Although I couldn’t tell if all his lines were in English (you never know with all these poorly dubbed Italian flicks), but it at least appeared that he was speaking the language. He wasn’t exactly mind blowing in the role, but he did a good enough job to convince me his mild-mannered behavior was genuine. It’s more than you can say about some additions to the Giallo genre, where the characters are often puddle-deep. I was partially annoyed by our lead character’s girlfriend however, she was fairly average through most of the film except for one scene where she stepped backwards into eye-rolling territory. The scene that killed me was the bit where she is chased by the killer and finds herself stumbling over everything in her apartment, sobbing and unwilling to do anything to help herself. I think this gets on just about everyone’s nerves, as it is a staple of horror cinema, but her whining really started to grate my nerves. Probably thanks to the dubbing, once again. Everyone else ranges from satisfactory to poor, depending on how long they’re on the screen. There’s really no reason to split ends about poor acting though, with the dubbing it is truly hard to gauge legitimate performances. I just thought Musante did a good enough job that he deserved some acknowledgment. The one and only star of the film is Argento though, and that basically goes for every film he has ever made. Well, maybe with a few notable exceptions.

The Conclusion
There’s almost something magical about Argento’s work. Something that is so purely defined by himself, others can try to imitate but there is only one Dario Argento. I think what draws me to his work would be the colors. The red in his films always have me in awe. The Bird With the Crystal Plumage isn’t his best film, but it’s definitely high up there on a list of great films. If you’re expecting all loose ends to be tied together comfortably, you don’t know Argento. His work might confuse you, but at least it will entertain and mesmerize while it’s doing so.

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