Starring: Tom Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno
When Sam (Musante), an American writer living in Rome, witnesses an attempted murder in an art gallery and reports the crime to the police, he unwittingly sets the killer’s sights on himself and his beautiful model girlfriend. Things soon start to unravel as it becomes clear that, with the identity of the villain very much open to question, Sam himself is a prime suspect in the case. As the murders continue, Sam begins his own investigations into the serial killings hoping to somehow clear his name. But in doing so he becomes involved in a deadly relationship with the unknown slayer.
Dario Argento’s first directorial feature is a showcase of Giallo motifs and the artistic elements that transcend his films beyond the genre.
This duality is apparent from the outset. The set-up is pure Giallo – even the film’s title is the sort of oblique reference which the genre is notorious for. Sam, an American abroad, witnesses an attempted murder. How? By passing the front of an upscale Gallery, which contains strange large stone sculptures. Inside a silhouetted man and a woman dressed in white seem to be struggling together. In his rush to come to the woman’s aid, Sam becomes trapped between the outer and inner doors of the gallery and can only watch helplessly as the struggle turns deadly. This unwitting witness/forced voyeur concept is something Argento has returned to many times, in films such as Deep Red and Opera. The unknown man escapes, but luckily the woman, gallery owner Monica Ranieri, survives.
Sam is detained by the police. At first they entertain the notion that he might be a suspect but Inspector Morosini decides that he is a key witness instead, and confiscates his passport to ensure he can’t leave the country.
Sam recounts what he saw to the police over and over, but seems to think he’s missing a detail which he can’t quite grasp. Again, this is something Argento has returned to in such films as Deep Red and Tenebrae. The crisp photography and editing lays the puzzle in front of the audience, daring us to piece it together. Needless to say, it’s impossible until the convoluted ending.The police tie the attempted murder of Monica Ranieri to a series of horrific murders which have occurred in the recent months. As the film dwells on these murders aswell, it would appear that they are correct. Naturally the killer wears black leather gloves – a giallo standard – and a variety of deadly knives. The murders are more lurid than gory, but incredibly tense at the same time.
There are numerous set pieces in the film. The middle section turns into a chase movie as Sam and his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendal) are pursued by a hired killer who murders their police escort. It’s a well-shot night scene in and around a bus depot which devolves into a perplexing state of affairs as Sam ends up tailing the killer only to lose him in a boxer’s convention!
The film’s title refers to a clue which is the sort of thing which could only come up in a giallo. Sam had recorded a telephone call he received from the killer, warning him to stop investigating. In the background is the birdcall of an exotic bird, which is identified by Sam’s editor, leading to the location of the killer. This leads to another exemplarily shot sequence – witness the framing of Sam as he slams open the door of a blacked out room.
The finale sees Sam finally locate the missing detail to his memory of the attack on Monica, finally identifying the killer. However the reasons behind the murders are left to be explained by Inspector Morosini and a psychiatrist on a tv programme, so convoluted is it that the exposition couldn’t have been shoe-horned into the story any other way!
Arrow’s blu ray release has come under a bit of criticism because of the aspect ratio of the print. It should be noted that the 2:1 ratio is how the film was originally presented, even though it was shot slightly wider. The audio sounds at times if the dialogue was post-synced and there probably isn’t a lot of difference between watching the film in Italian or dubbed into English. However the score, a bizarre jazzy score by the maestro, Ennio Morricone, is excellently produced.
For the curious,
The Bird With The Crystal Plumage
is an excellent place to start with Argento’s work and other giallos. It’s not as violent as his later entries and provides an excellently convoluted mystery to unravel.
8 out of 10(MikeOutWest)
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