I should start off by saying that I’ve never been a massive Dario Argento fan—I’ve found some of his films enjoyable over the years but has never gotten why others see him as a great director. I’ve always been more of a fan of his predecessor, Mario Bava. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was Argento’s first film as director, and out of the handful I’ve seen it is probably my favourite to date.
It follows the fairly standard tropes of the Giallo: there are some mysterious murders, and an American writer in Italy witnesses an attempted murder in an art gallery. He gets his passport taken away because he needs to stay in Rome to identify suspects and to undergo questioning. He soon becomes obsessed with the case and starts his own investigation into who is terrorizing Rome… but will he or his girlfriend survive the killer?
Argento undeniably had a great visual eye, and already in this film a lot of the visual signatures that he would use through his career are on full show. It’s full of the usual grisly scenes and spurting blood, and the odd characters, like a cat-eating painter (which as a cat lover made me flinch), with which he made his career. It’s one of the stronger debut features to come out of the early ’70s, and it’s not hard to admire a filmmaker whose style was fully formed on day one. It lacks the supernatural elements of his later films, and is more of a standard mystery. As usual the plot is all over the place, but it’s all wrapped up with a solid twist at the end.
Arrow, which has released most of the films from Argento’s golden period in the UK (with Suspiria being the most notable exception), has pulled out the stops on this. It boasts a new 4K transfer which really makes his visual style pop out of the screen. A lot of his films have had shoddy DVD releases over the years, so these Blu-rays do make his contribution to the genre far more convincing. The release comes in a nice hard cardboard case with a lengthy booklet and postcards. It includes commentaries, visual essays, and interviews with experts on Argento and the Giallo, alongside an interview with Argento and Gildo Di Marco.