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 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.