The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Italian: L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo) is a 1970 giallo film directed by Dario Argento, in his directorial debut. The film has been credited with popularizing the Italian giallo genre.[3] It is the first installment in the Animal Trilogy, and was followed by The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971) and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1972).

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage
Italian theatrical release poster
Directed byDario Argento
Produced bySalvatore Argento[1]
Screenplay byDario Argento[1]
Music byEnnio Morricone
CinematographyVittorio Storaro
Edited byFranco Fraticelli
Distributed byTitanus (Italy)
Release date
  • 19 February 1970 (1970-02-19) (Italy)
  • 24 June 1970 (1970-06-24) (West Germany)
Running time
96 minutes[2]
  • Italy
  • West Germany.[1]

Written by Argento, the film borrowed liberally from Fredric Brown's novel The Screaming Mimi,[3] which had previously been made into a Hollywood film, Screaming Mimi (1958), directed by Gerd Oswald.[4]

The film was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe award for best motion picture in 1971. The film was originally cut by 20 seconds for its US release and received a 'GP' rating, though it was later re-classified as 'PG'. It has since been released in the US uncut. Upon its release the film was a huge box office hit, grossing 1,650,000,000 Italian lira (roughly about $1 million US), twice the production cost of $500,000. The film was also a success outside of Italy, gaining €1,366,884 admissions in Spain.


Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is an American writer vacationing in Rome with his English model girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall). Suffering from writer's block, Sam is on the verge of returning to America, but witnesses the attack of a woman in an art gallery by a mysterious black-gloved assailant dressed in a raincoat.

Attempting to reach her, Sam is trapped between two mechanically-operated glass doors and can only watch as the villain makes his escape. The woman, Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi), the wife of the gallery's owner, Alberto Ranieri (Umberto Raho), survives the attack and the local police confiscates Sam's passport to stop him from leaving the country; the assailant is believed to be a serial killer who is killing young women across the city, and Sam is an important witness.

Sam is haunted by what he saw that night, feeling sure that some vital clue is evading him, and he decides to help Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno) in his investigation. He interviews the pimp of a murdered prostitute and visits a shop where one of the victims worked. There, he finds that the last thing she sold on the day of her death was a painting of a stark landscape featuring a man in a raincoat murdering young women. He visits the artist, but finds only another dead end. As he makes his way back to his apartment, Julia is attacked by the same black-gloved figure, but Sam arrives home just in time to save her and the assailant escapes.

Sam starts to receive menacing phone calls from the killer, from which the police manage to isolate an odd cricketing noise in the background, which is later revealed to be the call of a rare breed of bird from Siberia, called "The Bird with Crystal Plumage" due to the diaphanous glint of its feathers. This proves important since the only one of its kind in Rome is kept in the Italian capital's zoo, allowing Sam and the police to identify the killer's abode. There they once again find Monica Ranieri, this time struggling with her husband, Alberto, who is wielding a knife. After a short struggle, Alberto is dropped from six stories onto a concrete sidewalk below. As he dies, he confesses to the murders and tells them he loves his wife.

Finding that Julia and Monica have run off, Sam goes after them, eventually coming to a darkened building. There he finds his friend Carlo (Renato Romano) murdered and Julia bound, gagged, and wounded. The assailant emerges and is revealed as Monica Ranieri. Sam suddenly realizes that he didn't actually miss anything during the first attack; he simply misinterpreted what he saw: the attack he witnessed in the gallery was not Monica being assaulted but rather Monica attacking her husband, who was wearing the raincoat. She flees and he pursues Monica to her art gallery. There, he is trapped, pinned to the floor by the release of a wall-sized sculpture of wire and metal. Unable to free himself, he is teased by the knife-wielding Monica as she prepares to kill him. As she raises her knife, the police (who were notified by Julia, who had escaped) burst in and apprehend her. Sam is freed and Monica is taken to a psychiatric hospital. The victim of a traumatic attack ten years before, seeing the painting of the murdered girl drove her mad, causing her to identify not with the victim but with the assailant. Alberto likewise suffered from an induced psychosis, helping her to cover up the murders and committing some himself. Sam and Julia are re-united and return to America.



The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was released in Italy with a 101-minute running time on 19 February 1970.[1] It was released in Berlin, Germany with a 94-minute running time at the Gloria-Palast on 24 June 1970.[1] In Germany it was marketed as an adaptation of a Bryan Edgar Wallace story.[3]

Critical reception

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage has been very well received by critics. The New York Times wrote, "[It] has the energy to support its elaborateness and the decency to display its devices with style. Something from each of its better models has stuck, and it is pleasant to rediscover old horrors in such handsome new décor. "[5] Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars, writing, "it's a pretty good [thriller]", but that "its scares are on a much more basic level than in, say, a thriller by Hitchcock."[6]

The film was placed 272nd in Empire magazine's "500 Greatest Movies of All Time" list.[7]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 93% based on 27 reviews, and an average rating of 7.5/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Combining a deadly thriller plot with the stylized violence that would become his trademark, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage marked an impressive horror debut for Dario Argento."[8]

Home media

The film was originally cut by 20 seconds for its US release and received a 'GP' rating, though it was later re-classified as 'PG'. The film was later released on DVD by VCI with the restored violence, but had problems with a sequence of shots referred to as "the panty removal scene". Later pressings fixed it. Blue Underground later obtained the rights and re-released the film completely uncut, adding an extra shot of violence previously unseen. The picture was completely restored and the sound was remixed into both 5.1 audio for both Italian and English tracks, but contained another soundtrack remixed into DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete in English.

Blue Underground released the film on Blu-ray Disc on 24 February 2009. Tech specs saw a BD-50 dual-layer presentation with newly remastered 1080p video and English audio tracks in DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 7.1 Surround and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 Surround plus the original Italian audio track. It is now out-of-print. VCI announced on their Facebook page that they plan to release the film on Blu-ray Disc sometime soon and was released on September 12, 2013.[9]

Arrow released the film on Blu-ray in the UK on June 13, 2011 but drew some criticism due to the film being cropped to 2.00:1 (which is director of photography Vittorio Storaro's current Univisium aspect ratio).[10] In June 2017, Arrow re-released the film on a limited edition Blu-ray/DVD combo pack in the US and the UK containing a remastered 4K transfer from the original camera negative made exclusively for the release.[11]

See also


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