The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Dario Argento / Italy-West Germany, 1970):
(L'Uccello dalle Piume di Cristallo; The Gallery Murders)

"Peace, tranquility, that's Italy," terror and inspiration for the vacationing artist. Dario Argento has a tingling flurry as his overture: Black leather gloves on gleaming knives, freeze-frames for the lurker's shuttering eyeball, a lamp turned on then off to a woman's scream. Violence is the reflexive Roman spectacle, a stabbing at the modernist art exhibit displayed for a captive audience, the American writer (Tony Musante) trapped between glass panels like rectangular 'Scope screens. The ensuing investigation gives a fractured consciousness gradually pulled together in tandem with the camera. "I can't get it out of my head, but I can't pin it down, either." A rare uccello in the zoo figures in the aural piecing of the murder mystery, though the title is above all a poetical hybrid of flesh and blade, a giallo specialty. (Another suggestive embodiment is the canvas depicting a slaying, "naive and macabre" and monochromatic until color flushes back into it for the transition from the hero's apartment to the killer's hideout.) Stuttering pimp and swishy antiques dealer get their turns in a particularly rich gallery of suspects, Mario Adorf luxuriates as a shaggy painter with a casserole filled with kittens ("I'm going through a mystical period"). Sleek Hitchcockisms abound—a chase that begins in a parking lot for buses leads to a pugilists' convention suffused with yellow trench coats, a judicious soupçon of Saboteur registers the plunge in a POV shot. Morricone ululations over a victim's ripped undies, the meat cleaver on the ejaculating pipe, rapid cutting on the girlfriend under siege underlines Suzy Kendall's resemblance to Monica Vitti. Argento carries this profusion of details with cunning technique rather akin to Petri's (Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion is contemporaneous), a medieval spiked sculpture is instrumental in the baring of the "paranoid" mind. The case is closed and the subgenre is opened, "portate qui i pervertiti!" Cinematography by Vittorio Storaro. With Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi, Umberto Raho, Renato Romano, and Giuseppe Castellano.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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