Review: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

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The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is “The Italian Hitchcock” Dario Argento’s very first film. This film was a big hit and put “Giallo” films on the map. I don’t know much about these films, but find them simiular to America’s classic film noir period. These films are called Giallo because many are based on the cheap pulp books, most translations of English mystery books. These books are called Giallo because of the yellow covers most of them had. The French called these books noir, The Italian’s called them Giallo. In fact the first Giallo novel to be adapted was James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, adapted in 1943 by Luchino Visconti as Ossessione. Giallo films became popular in the late 1960’s and peaked in the early 1970’s. They have a lot of the same tropes as noir, but add a few of there own. They seem to bridge the gap between film noir and horror.

Dario Argento maybe the most famous director of this kind of film and has transitioned to more films that would be considered horror over the years. In this film Argento seems to take noir films, add some Hitchcockian elements and throw in a more violent, horror element during the murder scenes and you have the bases for this film and Giallo films to come.

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This film starts with an American writer in Italy, played by Tony Musante. He is about to go back to America with his beautiful girlfriend, played by Suzy Kendall. On his way home one night he witnesses an attempted murder in an art gallery. As he tries to enter the gallery he gets stuck between the two glass doors as the murderer locks him in as the murderer escapes out the back. He signals a man who calls the police, the police come and save the victim. The police question our American writer and take his passport so he cannot leave the country as planned. Soon he starts his own investigation and seems to be encouraged by the Italian police to do so. This leads him on a twisted trail of clues to find the killer. The killer has already struck before and seems to be targeting beautiful young women. Can our hero find the killer before they can get to his girlfriend? Will he get out of the country alive?

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This film has some interesting smaller characters that are discovered along the investigation. Argento has always been one of those directors that has interested me. It seems like he can make some brilliant films along with some that are best watched by those that like cheap horror films.

This one is beautifully shot and makes for a good neo noir film. It is a good place to start for those that are curious about Argento’s films. Suspiria is maybe his best known film and if you are a fan of good horror films, this is a must see. If you are not a fan of horror start with this film.

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Favorite Tidbit: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is an uncredited adaptation of Fredric Brown’s novel The Screaming Mimi. There is a American classic film noir based on this book from 1958 called The Screaming Mimi. I have not seen this film yet, but would like to watch it and compare the two films.

 

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Review: The Bastard

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The Bastard is an interesting film that I can not find much about. It looks like it has been released under The Cats, Sons of Satan and The Bastard. It looks to be an Italian film, but filmed in New Mexico. The version I saw is in English, but looks to be voiced over in areas, so may have originally been filmed in Italian in parts.

The film is from writer and director Duccio Tessari and was released in 1968. This film definitely has the feel of a grind house, drive-in, B-movie which actually makes for a more interesting viewing today. This story seems to be a simple revenge plot, but is much more intricate and subtle story hiding in a bloody late night film.

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This film starts with a simple but violent smash and grab heist of jewels.  Giuliano Gemma plays Jason, our protagonist. He soon “gets ride of the competition” in a quick series of car chases and shot outs. These early scenes seem to be confusing, in that we don’t really know who these people are other then Jason. These scenes seem to be there to satisfy the grind house crowd with some bloody violence and action. In this part of the film, Jason contacts his girl, Karen, played by Margaret Lee.

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Jason soon contacts his brother, Adam, played by Klaus Kinski. Adam is the man who put together the jewel theft. Then we meet their mother, played by film noir great Rita Hayworth. When Adam double crosses Jason with the help of femme fatale Karen the plot really starts rolling.

Though some blurbs on this film says Adam left his brother Jason for dead, this is not true. He humiliates him and has a doctor cut his wrist. on his shooting hand, making him useless in the criminal world. Jason is soon rescued and rehabilitated by Barbara, played by Bond Girl Claudine Auger.

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This story is very noir, with a twisted family lead by Rita Hayworth. The title The Bastard comes to light later in the film when Hayworth talks about Adam and Jason being half-brothers. Jason’s father proposed to her the day Adam’s father was killed in the electric chair. She said no and Jason’s father went out for the night, knowing they would kill him. She lost both of her son’s fathers on the same day.

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In this film Rita Hayworth is at the end of her film career. She would only make 3 more films after this one. Hayworth is around 50 years old in this film and her beauty is still there, but not burning as bright as it was in her classic older films. This aspect is brought up through out the film. She plays her role a little over the top, but is playing an alcoholic mother who realizes she is past her prime. At one point in the film, she looks at photos on the wall and talks about how beautiful she used to be. The photos are actually from her past films, like Gilda and Cover Girl. I didn’t know if I should feel bad seeing “the fall” of this great star or if I was seeing a brilliant performance from an amazing actress. I prefer to believe it was the latter. She may have already been showing early signs of  Alzheimer’s disease here.

This is a bit of a hidden gem I think fans of 1960’s neo noir and grind house films will enjoy. I also think fans of Rita Hayworth will enjoy this film as a last glimpses of her greatness.

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Favorite Tidbit: Rita Hayworth’s part originally went to another classic film noir great, Joan Crawford. She dropped out due to disagreements about the script. Maybe she was not brave enough to portray a woman that realizes she is past her prime.

Review: The Double Hour or La doppia ora

The Double Hour is an Italian neo noir from 2009 directed by Giuseppe Capotondi. It stars Ksenia Rappoport as our female lead and Filippo Timi as our male lead. This film has a bit of a few genres rapped into one unpredictable film. This is a psychological thriller mostly, horror in parts, a murder mystery in a way, a heist movie to a curtain extent, and a twisted suspense movie to boot.

This story starts out with Sonia, played by Rappoport, working as a maid at a high-end hotel. She soon witnesses a suicide at the hotel. We then find her at a speed dating event, she hits it off with Guido played by Timi. Timi takes a liking to Sonia as well, but goes home with another women. He seems to have a women hating streak as he quickly gets rid of his date after the deed is done and seems to be a bit upset after she leaves. We then see our couple get together and go out on a date, where we learn Guido used to be a cop. We then find our couple out in the country enjoying an empty mansion. Guido works security for the home and has set up the alarm system as well. Our couple is enjoying the outdoors when a masked man hits Guido over the head with his gun. We find the couple tied up in the mansion as a team of thieves steals all the antiques and art work. They seem professional and are in and out fairly fast as they package the valuables into two moving trucks. One of the masked men comes back in and makes a move on Sonia. Guido with his hands still tied up, jumps on the thief and there is a struggle over the masked man’s gun. A gunshot goes off and the screen goes black! The story twists and turns from here with a lot of unexpected revelations.

Here is another very good film that is getting the American re-make treatment. This time Michelle Williams and Joel Edgerton are set to star as our two leads.

We will see how the remake will stack up, but for now I recommend seeking out the original. If you are a fan of the mysterious, and films that make you think and that you want to see twice to see what you missed the first time, this is the film for you.

Review: The Cat o’ Nine Tails

The Cat o’ Nine Tails is a neo noir suspense film from Italian great, Dario Argento.  Argento is the Hitchcock of Italy, and I’ve seen some of his films and find I love some and hate some.  In recent years he has mostly done straight up horror movies, but in the 1970’s he made quite a few really good crime, mystery, suspense and neo noir films.  Argento says this is his least favorite of his films and has disowned it over the years.  Though this is not his best work, it is watchable and has an interesting story.

This film stars Karl Malden as a blind crossword writer, who used to be a journalist before he was blinded 15 years ago.  His intuition takes over on a case that looks like a simple breaking and entering, which happened across the road from where Malden lives, and a scientist who falls in front of a train a day later.  Malden thinks the two incidents are linked and recruits James Franciscus who is a current journalist to help him with the case.  More people are murdered and the plot thickens as our now serial killer may be coming after one of our heroes.  Catherine Spaak plays are femme fatale and gets involved with Franciscus.

This is Argento’s second film and his youthful sophomore experience is not his best.  He definitely cribbed some Hitchcockian themes and even some camera shots in this film.  Argento’s horror movie future does start to show in this film, with the death scenes a little more grotesque and violent than most suspense films.  Most of the death scenes are shot from the point of view of the killer, this was nothing new, but was still very stylish and different than most films from the era.

This would not be the first film I would recommend for Argento newbies, but if you are a fan of his, it is worth checking out.