Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Director: Dario Argento

Dario Argento bursts onto the filmmaking scene with this suspenseful crime thriller that ultimately delivers what it promises. Tony Musante plays Sam, an American writer trapped in Italy after witnessing a brutal and bloody attack on a young woman. The assailant turns out to be a serial killer whom the police are frantically trying to apprehend, and Sam attempts to recall events or details that will aid in the killer’s capture. Sam and his girlfriend are subsequently stalked by the killer for knowing too much. Sam also engages in some detective work of his own, and heads down several dead end paths. At least they appear as dead ends at first. The killer looks like a Spy vs. Spy character, garbed in a stereotypical black hat and black trench coat. The killer also has a spooky, whispery voice, and brandishes a large knife that leads to gallons of spilled blood, which Argento fans will lovingly embrace.

The whole story is an effective thriller, which actually fills in areas of its plot that seem at first to be plot holes. The whole film looks beautiful (another Argento hallmark) and its story never drags. The red herrings aren't cheap attempts at yanking the audience around, and actually serve a purpose. The endings are always the hardest to do in a murder mystery, obviously because that's what the whole thing's about. Any reveal isn't nearly as fun as trying to figure it out on your own. This reveal actually makes sense (in that movie murder mystery type of way) and will please fans rather than frustrate them. And yes, there is a bird with crystal plumage that actually figures into the plot. Sam ultimately remembers a crucial detail about the killer when the plot calls for him to simply remember so that they can wind up the story. But it's acceptable, since Sam's recollection coincides enough with the actual reveal so as not to be a crucial or pivotal moment on its own. Flashbacks ensue and we see what Sam saw. And like Sam, we probably missed the detail that they did actually show in the earlier scene. All these elements sound simple, and yet they add up to a far more entertaining ride than the overblown rip-offs it would inspire. Each scene advances the plot and leads to the next twist. Several interesting characters, whose motives are never what they seem, help the film from growing old after about a half hour. This more straightforward murder mystery story proves that Argento not only was adept at utilizing supernatural elements, but could create genuine tension within a standard thriller premise that would make Hitchcock proud.

No comments: