Release Date(s)1970 (July 27, 2021)
Studio(s)Titanus/Universal Marion Corporation (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B
An impressive debut from one of horror's most respected names, Dario Argento's The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (aka L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo) was released in 1970 and quickly established itself as one of the best and most effective titles in the giallo subgenre, while also becoming the blueprint for others to follow. Unlike the brutally violent and overtly artistic films of his later career, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is more of a mystery thriller where the bloodshed is implied rather than seen. Even after repeated viewings and knowing the outcome, it still manages to be suspenseful, and one can't help but get caught up in it. It's a testament to how well constructed it is and how good the performances are. Ultimately, the film signaled the arrival of an artist willing to explore the frame in a more daring fashion, borrowing elements from various Italian genre films up to that point and creating something new and exciting.
American author Sam (Tony Musante) is staying in Rome with his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall) and suffering from a bout of writer’s block. One night while out for a walk, he strolls by an art gallery when he sees a woman named Monica (Eva Renzi) inside being assaulted by a mysterious black-gloved attacker. Inadvertently saving her by interrupting the crime, Sam is considered a key witness in what the police believe to be a failed crime in progress perpetrated by an elusive serial killer, still loose in the city. Since Sam’s memory of what transpired doesn’t sit quite right with him, Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno) instructs him to think very carefully about what he saw and come up with any additional clues. But even as Sam gets closer to the truth, more murders are committed, and it isn’t long before the killer gets closer to he and Julia.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage was shot on 35 mm Techniscope film with spherical lenses, finished photochemically, and was presented theatrically at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. For this new Ultra HD release, Arrow Video has undertaken a native 4K scan of the original camera negative, completed an extensive digital restoration, and graded the resulting image for high dynamic range (Dolby Vision and HDR10 options are available). We previously reviewed Arrow’s 2017 Blu-ray release and gave it very high marks, but this new Ultra HD easily surpasses it. Thoroughly organic right down to the very last pixel, this is a tightly-encoded presentation with moderate grain and extraordinary levels of detail and clarity. The blacks are deeper than ever before and capture every bit of detail within them. Look no further than the first murder scene, as the young woman walks through poorly lit streets. Even background elements in those extremely dark shots are more visible now. The color palette offers a variety of rich and more nuanced hues, including blues, greens, and reds. The previous Blu-ray’s saturation and contrast were tough to beat, but the new HDR pass widens the gamut further, allowing for even more depth in the images. The interiors of the police station and the artist’s disgusting home are obvious examples. Everything is stable and clean as well. This is a virtually perfect presentation of the film.
Audio options include English or Italian Mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles to accompany both tracks. Depending upon which language is chosen in the main menu, the opening and closing credits will appear in either English or Italian. The dialogue in the Italian track is flat with not much sonic personality—it’s much more rounded on the English track. The English track is also a bit more open and less narrow. Sound effects and Ennio Morricone’s score come through with great vibrancy on each. They’re also clean and free of any leftover defects. Ultimately, it’s a toss-up as to which track offers the better performances. Both have their pros and cons.
The following extras are also included:
- Audio Commentary with Troy Howarth
- Black Gloves and Screaming Mimis (HD – 31:54)
- The Power of Perception (HD – 20:57)
- Crystal Nightmare (HD – 31:24)
- An Argento Icon (HD – 22:05)
- Eva’s Talking (Upscaled SD – 11:26)
- Italian Trailer (HD – 3:11)
- International Trailer (HD – 2:48)
- 2017 Texas Frightmare Trailer (HD – :55)
- Posters Gallery (HD – 8 in all)
- Italian Lobby Cards Gallery (HD – 8 in all)
- French Lobby Cards Gallery (HD – 18 in all)
- Spanish Lobby Cards Gallery (HD – 4 in all)
- German Promotional Materials (HD – 47 in all)
- US Publicity Stills (HD – 10 in all)
- Easter Egg (HD – :34)
In the audio commentary with author Troy Howarth, he discusses the film’s presentation on home video, Ennio Morricone’s score, Argento’s background as a writer and film critic, Argento and Tony Musante’s working relationship, various cast and crew backgrounds and career highlights, the genesis of the film, the emphasis on forensics, Argento’s inexperience, production and post production issues, editing techniques, police characters in Argento’s films, black-gloved killers, the inclusion of homosexual characters, the film’s Krimi connections, the use of subjective camera work, comic relief, staircases in Italian horror, Argento’s mentors and inspiration, untidy elements in Argento’s films and their pros and cons, obsessive characters, the English dubbing, Morricone and Argento’s working relationship, the reveal of the killer, the theme that art can be deadly, the explanation scene at the end, and happy endings with humor. Black Gloves and Screaming Mimis features an interview with film critic Kat Ellinger in which she examines Argento’s work, talking about how the film isn’t as explicit as his later work, the story source, voyeurism in his work, changes from the source, the original film that the source was based upon, comparisons to Hitchcock, misogyny, gender politics, creative male impotence, police and science, other giallo filmmakers, gay characters, female killers in film, sexual sadism, an analysis of the ending, and the importance of the film. The Power of Perception is a visual essay by author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas in which she analyzes Dario Argento’s work and how perception and art play a role in it. Crystal Nightmare features an interview with Dario Argento in which he discusses how the film came into being, his trepidation about directing it, the writing of it, the title, finding a production company and distributor, Vittorio Storaro, where the film was shot, the cast, working with Tony Musante, casting Reggie Nalder, psychoanalysis in the film, the theme of memory, working with Ennio Morricone, the first screening of the film for the studio, and winning audiences over in Florence and Naples. In An Argento Icon, actor Gildo Di Marco talks about how he got his start, meeting Argento, shooting in the studio, his memories of Tony Musante, Vittorio Storaro on the set, his thoughts on the film, actors not watching their own work, working on Four Flies on Grey Velvet, not knowing Michael Brandon very well, admitting it’s not a film he likes, working on The Tram in Door Into Darkness, missing out on working with Argento again, and his reaction to still being relevant to fans. Eva's Talking features an archival interview with actress Eva Renzi in which she speaks about her husband talking her out of starring in House of Cards, being disappointed with choosing The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and killing her career, working on Funeral in Berlin, being offered a Bond film and refusing it, wanting more from her part, her memories of Argento, her thoughts on Tony Musante, preparing for her role, and her thoughts on Klaus Kinski. The still galleries feature 95 images of lobby cards, posters, and other promotional materials. The Easter egg can be found by navigating right when Image Galleries is selected, which will reveal a version of the opening scene at the newsstand where the poster announcing the recent murders has English text superimposed on top of it.
The disc is housed in a black amaray case with 6 Italian lobby card reproductions inside. Next to the case is a 60-page booklet featuring cast and crew information, Rogues’ Gallery: Portraits of Fear by Howard Hughes, Sacrificial Knives and Cultic Objects: Reflections of The Screaming Mimi in Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage by Jack Seabrook, Murder Has Two Faces: The Duality of Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage by Rachael Nisbet, and restoration information. Last but not least is a double-sided poster featuring new artwork by Obviously Creative on one side and the original US theatrical one sheet on the other. Everything is housed within a rigid slipcase featuring the same new artwork.
There are also a number of bonus materials from home video releases of the film all over the world not included. The 2009 Blue Underground Blu-ray features an audio commentary with Alan Jones and Kim Newman; Out of the Shadows, an interview with Dario Argento; Painting with Darkness, an interview with Vittorio Storaro; The Music of Murder, an interview with Ennio Morricone; and two TV spots. That release also contains four additional audio tracks: English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 7.1 TrueHD, English 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX, and Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX. Arrow Video's 2011 Blu-ray release includes three additional interview featurettes: The Italian Hitchcock: Dario Argento Remembers The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, A Crystal Classic: Luigi Cozzi Remembers Dario's Bloody Bird, and Sergio Martino: The Genesis of the Giallo. The 2013 Blu-ray from VCI includes the film's soundtrack as an audio supplement. And the 2015 Koch Media Blu-ray includes an audio commentary by Marcus Stiglegger, the German theatrical trailer, a still gallery, the German theatrical version of the film, and an interview with Mario Adorf. Fans who own any of these releases may want to hold onto them since much of this material is valuable.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is one of Dario Argento’s finest films. Though it was successful, it’s been overshadowed by his other films, particularly Deep Red and Suspiria. Arrow Video’s UHD debut offers a robust presentation of the film in a handsome package that any self-respecting Italian genre fans must have on their shelf. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons