Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Capsule Review: The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Struggling writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) is living in Italy when he witnesses a brutal assault at an art gallery, but gets trapped between two glass partitions while the attacker gets away. While initially reluctant to get involved, the police are convinced that Sam's memory holds an important detail that could lead to the identity of the killer, who is stalking and murdering young women in the city. Sam soon becomes obsessed with revealing the mystery, even as the killer starts to target Sam's young wife. Referring to the "yellow" covers on the pulp crime novels that influenced the genre, "giallo" films mixed Hitchcockian suspense with lurid genre trappings and stylish murder set pieces brought to life by a new wave of Italian filmmakers in the 1970s. While not the first to develop this style - Mario Bava was obviously a big influence - Dario Argento found both public and critical acclaim with his uncredited adaptation of Fredric Brown's novel The Screaming Mimi,which became the first of his "animal trilogy" of Giallos. While Argento would later to go on to acclaim with a series of ultra-stylish, often incoherent horror movies, here he's given a much tighter script with an effective final twist that should keep most viewers guessing. Like many Italian films of the era it suffers from bad dubbing and occasionally odd dialogue choices, but Argento - when paired with Ennio Morricone's astounding sing-song score, overcomes these limitations to deliver a minor classic.

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