Monday, 11 May 2020

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (L'Uccello dalle Piume di Cristallo) (1970)

Fuglen med krystalfjerpragten
Italian movies seem to be particularly popular here around 1970. I believe the last three movies I have scheduled for this year are all Italian or at least Italian directed. This is not a complaint, Italian movies are/were very versatile, but it is just… curious.

This one, “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” (“L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo”), is an Italian take on a Hitchcock’ian thriller. A bystander accidentally gets involved in a mystery that drags him further in than is healthy for him.

Sam (Tony Musante) is an American writer in Rome who has been spending time working and vacationing in Italy and is preparing to return home to America with his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall), an English girl. One night he witnesses an attempted murder, but stuck between glass doors he can only watch as the assailant gets away. The police, represented by Inspector Morosini (Enrico Maria Salerno) believes Sam saw more than he is volunteering and confiscate his passport, forcing him to stay around. The effect on the curious writer is to make him start exploring the case of what turns out to be a very violent serial killer. In the process both Sam and his girlfriend risk their lives.

My first impression of this movie was negative. There was something cheap and off-putting about it and it did not take me long to realize that it was the Italian dubbing. Italian movies are always made with dubbing of all sounds in the postproduction and the dubbing is invariably in a single language, in this case Italian. Never mind the weirdness of having Sam and Julia speaking to each other in fluent Italian, what really bothered me was the artificial feeling of poor dubbing. It reminded me of watching German television when we first got cables in the eighties where all the American and English shows were vandalized by cheap German dubbing. Few things set my teeth grinding as poor and obvious dubbing.

Fortunately for this movie the plot itself is so strong that eventually I could almost ignore the dubbing. That is the big asset of “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage”. There is a fast progression to the movie with surprising turns and twists and lots of suspense. Some of it comes a bit cheap, but most of it is very well done and worthy of Hitchcock. I did not buy the urge of the writer to invest so much in solving the case, especially after his girlfriend got threatened, this was a bit too much Tintin pluck, and Inspector Morosini is surprisingly eager to let Sam take part in the investigation. The naivety here belongs in the drawer of cheap crime novels. Looking past that though, this movie really takes you on a tour.

Normally I am not a fan of gory movies, but “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” uses gore to great effect. The ghastly murders, especially the stalking in dark places, are terrifying. There is also something about the unexplained loose ends that lends a layer of mystery to the affair. Combined with a point-of-view camera we get that very limited field of vision that leaves us mystified. Who was that boxer? Why was the friend of Sam in the apartment with the captive Julia? Did Sam eat a cat?

“The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” is not the greatest movie ever. It is a cheap movie, but it is also an effective movie and it totally delivers. Definitely recommended.




  1. I enjoyed this one quite a bit. In large part, I liked this because it's more coherent than a lot of giallo films.

    The Italians do love their Day-glo blood...

    1. I cannot say that I am familiar with giallo films. I learnt from reading your review that it is an entire genre and it does make sense. I liked this one too, probably more for being as cryptic as it was.

  2. I got into my website today without the red screen! Praying that this lasts.

    Have never seen this one and am looking forward to it.

    1. I tried access it too but I was not so lucky. I only got an error message.