SCREAMING MIMI. Columbia Pictures, 1958. Anita Ekberg, Philip Carey, Gypsy Rose Lee, Harry Townes, Linda Cherney. Based on the novel The Screaming Mimi, by Fredric Brown. Director: Gerd Oswald.

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. Seda Spettacoli, Italy-Germany, 1970. CBS, US, 1977 (TV, original airing). 21st Century Film Corporation, US, 1982. (theatrical re-release). Original title: L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo. Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi. Screenplay by Dario Argento, based on the novel The Screaming Mimi by Fredric Brown (uncredited). Director: Dario Argento.

   I’ve spoken often and highly of Fredric Brown;s classic mystery novel of strip-clubs and theology, The Screaming Mimi (Dutton, 1949) and recently betook myself to watching both film versions of it, side-by-side and back-to-back, through the miracle of VCRm watching a chunk of one, then the other, than back again…

   The Screaming Mimi (Columbia, 19580 offers some kicking-and-kinky direction from Gerd Oswald, a cult director in the Jim Jones tradition, which is to say he showed a lot of potential in low-budget westerns and thrillers, and managed one classic, A Kiss Before Dying (1956) before drinking the kool-aid of network television.

   Mimi belongs to his Promising period, with a pleasantly straightforward (for the 50s) to homosexuality, bondage, obsession and amour fou, but it’s undone by a screenplay that seems way too limp for a movie about serial killings.

   There’s never a sense of momentum here, no feeling of progressing towards some resolution. Instead, events just seem to come along and happening no particular order, the head off in any direction whatever, just sort of strutting and fretting across the screen till their allotted hour-or-so is over at last.

   A pity, because there are glimmers here and there of what could have been a perverse classic.

   The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Italy, 1970) on the other hand, is a certified wowser. The directorial debut of Dario Argento, who became something of a Name in Horror films, this is a garish, fast-moving, humorous movie about serial slashing, stalking, knifing and general mayhem set against colorful locations, played and/or dubbed by a cast a cut (sorry!) above the usual run of Italian imports.

   Fredric Brown got no screen credit for this film, and for years critics who knew nothing about Pulp averred that it was based on an Edgar Wallace story, but I defy anyone out there to show me an Edgar Wallace book with this plot. I’ll wrestle anyone in the crowd who thinks he can do it. No takers? I thought not.

   Anyway, getting back to the story, this follows Brown’s novel pretty closely, right down to the minor characters and bits of by-play. Argento tossed away the thematic framework of Brown’s novel, and he turned the hard-drinking loner of the book into a young married couple, ut that’s a fate that befell many of us in the 70s.

   The fact is, this is a fairly faithful translation of The Screaming Mimi into film, and if not all of it could have been (The real meaning of the book isn’t revealed until the last page, and it’s truly harrowing.), it’s at least a fun ride.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson, May 2005.