‘The Bird With The Crystal Plumage’ — or Dressed To Thrill

So what do you do for your first film as a director? How about create a massively influential, ridiculously well-made, genre defining masterpiece?

Dario Argento’s ‘The Bird With The Crystal Plumage’ is remarkable for a number of reasons. The fact that it was his first film isn’t so much the issue. The fact that it is this well made, however, is. It is a stunning movie and one you might think a director had spent a few years, and films, working up to rather than coming right out the gate with a fully formed work of art.

The design, the energy, the set-pieces are all here and tied together by a story bristling with Argento’s typically manipulative fun. There are scenes combining striking beauty with nerve-shredding tension, two of the best being a staircase sequence where bright whites terminate into total blackness and a scene involving a wooden door and a knife. Both of these rank as some of Argento’s best work and the rest of the movie isn’t far behind.

This might not be as perfect as ‘Deep Red’ but considering that for his first film he even comes close to those heights is incredible. It’s also a sort of spiritual precursor to ‘Profundo Rosso’ as disturbing, nightmarish illustrations act as a psychological trigger for violence.

But, for me, the big take-away from this was seeing just how much Brian DePalma’s ‘Dressed To Kill’ owes this movie — i.e.practically everything! ‘Dressed To Kill’s lift scene is lifted (apols) straight from ‘Crystal Plumage’ almost shot for shot and beat for beat. Likewise with the music. Morricone’s gorgeous main theme is completely cloned by Donaggio for the scene in ‘Dressed To Kill’ when Nancy Allen seduces Michael Caine. The influence of Giallo and Argento has always been screamingly apparent in DePalma’s work but discovering how much of it stems from this one film was a revelation.

I loved ‘The Bird With The Crystal Plumage’ and it now ranks as one of my favourite Argento movies. It might not have some of the excess of his films to come but in it’s place it has a tautness and focus that really make it work. And oh, all that gorgeous style!

Like having an elaborate plot twist revealed to me, I now understand why ‘The Bird With The Crystal Plumage’ is regarded as one of the greatest Italian thrillers ever made. Because it is.

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