The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is somewhat unusual, a Dario Argento movie without gore. Unfortunately Argento’s first feature, made in 1970, also lacks the characteristic Argento baroque visual splendour (although it does have a typically impressive Argento opening sequence, the attempted murder behind plate glass). I’m not a big fan of the giallo genre, but Argento’s giallos are more interesting than most. While giallos tend to focus on violence towards women, something that makes me a little uncomfortable, with Argento there’s always something else going on. If you make the mistake of only seeing the violence against women then you’re making the same mistake the protagonist of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage makes, of being led astray by your assumptions about gender. Any assumptions are dangerous in Argento’s world, since all sounds and images can mislead us. What appear to be clues are really snares.
The movie opens with a man witnessing a woman being murdered, but the events are happening on the other side of a plate-glass window and he is unable to intervene. When he gives his statement to the police, he is convinced that there’s something he’s missed, something that didn’t fit. He starts playing amateur detective, determined to find the answer, and finds that both he and his girlfriend have become caught up in a web of violence spun by a mysterious serial killer. While it doesn’t have the spectacular visuals of his later movies it is a very assured feature film debut, and (by the standards of giallos) it’s surprisingly coherent and tightly plotted. During the course of the 70s Argento seemed to focus more on images and less on plot, and his movies steadily improved, but The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is still worthy entertainment.