EDITORS NOTE: This review by John R. Duvoli ran in the very first issue of Cinefantastique magazine, Fall 1970 (Volume 1, Number 1). Therefore, although today is in fact February 24, 2009, I am dating the article September 1, 1970.
By John R. Duvoli
It would appear that the makers of this European suspense shocker poured over volumes of Hitchcock film critiques and attempted to piece together a Hitchcock-like thriller. The plot contrivances are there, the possibilities are there, but the style and flair that is the master’s is not. The film does succeed, though, as a good imitation.
American Tony Mussante, on a holiday in Rome with Suzy Kendall, witnesses an attempted murder. He becomes almost obsessed with piecing together the mystery, despite the vehement objections of Miss Kendall; and when it becomes apparent that the man he saw may have been a “Jack-the-Ripper” type. who is terrorizing Rome, his criminologist-like instinct wins out over common sense.
The Hitchcock devices are there. Mussante, early in the film, traps himself between two glass panels while attempting to rescue a victim (Eva Renzi) and desperately tries to signal the nearly deserted street for aid. Later, after nearly being killed, Mussante follows his would-be assassin into a hotel…where he winds up in a convention hall where everyone is dressed like the killer. Still later, we see a victim climbing a long staircase; she cannot see the lights go out on the top landing, but we can.
I must confess to having the mystery all figured out, or so I thought (and every plot revelation made me more positive)… but I was wrong. The “surprise” ending, while a surprise, is unsatisfactory. I can’t reveal it of course; suffice it to say that it is illogical and not at all believable. The psychiatric explanation at the finale seems pretty weak on logic and believability too…but by this time the film has become sufficiently compelling.
There are flaws. The absurd characterizations that were a trademark of the Edgar Wallace series are there, though this time to a lesser degree. Dubbing is satisfactory and technical credits are good. There’s an annoyingly exaggerated portrayal of a homosexual art dealer, but Suzy Kendall is very likable, as is Mr. Mussante. Eva Renzi, who works in both major (Funeral In Berlin) and nudie (That Woman) films is adequate.
The title refers to a rare bird, whose chatterings are heard in the background during a phone conversation with the “ripper” killer, a vital clue in the denouement.
THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (L’ Uccello dalle Piume di Cristallo, 1970). A UM Film Distributor Release, 8/70. In Eastmancolor. 98 minutes. A Sydney Glazier Presentation. Producer: Salvatore Argento. Director and scripter: Dario Argento. Camera: Vittorio Storaro. Film Editor: Franco Fraticelli. Music: Ennio Morricone. Art director: Dario Micheli. Sound: Carlo Diotalievi. Cast: Tony Musante (Sam Dalmas), Suzy Kendall (Julia), Eva Renzi (Monica), Enrico Maria Salerno (Morosini), Mario Adorf (Berto), Renato Romano (Dover), Umberto Rano (Ranieri), Reggie Nalder (assassin).