Dario Argento’s debut gets the beautiful Blu-ray it deserves.
Giallo films existed before Dario Argento stepped behind the camera, but his name has become synonymous with the sub-genre for a reason. Starting with 1970’s The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and continuing on through films like Four Flies on Grey Velvet, Tenebre, Opera, and others, he’s long since proven himself a genre master. The past two decades have been less favorable, but happily we can always look backwards to past classics like his debut. The film has seen some fine Blu-ray releases over the years, both here in the US (via Blue Underground) and abroad (from Arrow Video), but now Arrow has released a newly-remastered and gorgeously presented Blu-ray that is the new definitive edition.
Sam (Tony Musante) is an American writer living and loving in Rome, but days before his planned return home he witnesses an attempted murder inside an art gallery from the street outside. He attempts to help the woman in distress, but a glass partition locks him in the foyer forcing him into the role of witness only. The attacker, concealed beneath a raincoat and a hat, slips away while wounded woman lay bleeding. Police arrive to save the woman’s life, and as they interrogate Sam he comes to believe that he saw something important even if he can’t quite recall what it was. Unable to shake the incident Sam begins his own investigation and soon finds himself targeted by the mysterious killer.
Argento would revisit this setup — person witnesses a murder and becomes a target — a couple more times down the road, most notably (and even better) with Deep Red, but he succeeds quite well with his first go at it. We see the same crime Sam does, and his efforts to recall what he witnessed work well to keep our own attention and memory in check.
His script, heavily inspired by Fredric Brown’s novel The Screaming Mimi (though not acknowledged), works well in setting up a handful of potential suspects on the way to the final reveal. The final twist never feels tack on either leaving the pieces visible as to how it all comes together. The film breaks somewhat from the norm of the genre by featuring a police detective who’s actually quite competent. Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno) is a competing driving force also working to solve the case, and we’re never made to feel as if his presence is a waste of our time or Sam’s.
While later Argento films would grow to become far more elaborate and beautiful in their cinematography and production design this one is no slouch and still stands tall against too many Hollywood thrillers. Vittorio Storaro, who also shot The Last Emperor and Dick Tracy, captures a stylish world in motion taking full advantage of both shadow and color. An equally fluid score by Ennio Morricone adds to the atmosphere and overall effect helping make Argento’s directorial debut a remarkably assured one.
The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is a fun, well-crafted thriller that serves as a smart starting point for newcomers to the cult of Argento. Watch it, enjoy it, and then move on to absolute gems like Deep Red, Suspiria, and Phenomena.
Arrow’s new Blu-ray, their second stab at the film, features a brand-new 4K remaster from the original negative, trailers, and a new commentary track by giallo expert Troy Howarth that’s loaded with information and anecdotes. The smart hard case holds the Blu-ray case, an essay and photo-filled booklet, a poster, and five lobby card reproductions. The mostly new special features, all different from Arrow’s previous release meaning that I’ll be keeping both, also include:
- *NEW* Black Gloves and Screaming Mimis [31:54] – Critic Kat Ellinger discusses Dario Argento’s giallos and this film’s basis in Fredric Brown’s novel, The Screaming Mimi, which was previously adapted in the late ’50s.
- *NEW* The Power of Perception [20:57] – This new visual essay by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas explores Argento’s use of artwork and our perception of it throughout his films.
- *NEW* Crystal Nightmare [31:24] – Dario Argento sits down for a new interview discussing the film’s production, his arguments with lead actor Tony Musante, working with Ennio Morricone, and more.
- *NEW* An Argento Icon [22:05] – Actor Gildo Di Marco recalls his intro into acting in spaghetti westerns and his work with Dario Argento.
- Eva’s Talking [11:19] – Eva Renzi talks about her time on the film in this older interview.