= Highest Rating
Argento's second film, his follow-up to the internationally
with the Crystal Plumage, accentuates the
mystery angle of the giallo rather than emphasize
the violence. This might turn off fans who've
come to know Argento's work from more celebrated
— and sanguinary — works like Deep
Red (1975), Suspiria
('77) and Tenebre ('82).
To date, this is the "mildest" Argento film we've
seen when it comes to blood 'n' guts. Aside from
a 3-second shot of Catherine Spaak's bare breasts
and a single "Oh, shit!", there's nothing in this
movie that couldn't be shown uncut on network
TV. The whodunit angle predominates here, buttressed
by more character development than is customary
for Argento flicks. The subtle dashes of humor
may also seem unusual to those familiar only with
the Italian director's later works.
A break-in at Rome's prestigious Terzi Institute
for Genetic Research seems at first to be of little
consequence. As nothing appears to have been stolen
the incident is chalked up to a botched attempt
at industrial espionage. But blind puzzle-maker
Franco Arno (Malden), who lives just across the
street from the scientific complex, is convinced
otherwise. At the time of the break-in he overheard
a strange conversation between two people in a
car parked outside the gate — one of them mentioned
blackmail. The next day a top scientist from the
institute, Dr. Calabresi (Carlo Alighiero), is
killed when he falls in front of a train. The
police think it's an unrelated accident. Arno
knows better: his 10-year old "seeing eye" niece,
Lori (Cinzia De Carolis), identifies the dead
man as one of those present in the parked car
just before the break-in. A journalist prior to
losing his sight, Arno takes his hunch to cynical
but dedicated reporter Carlo Giordani (Franciscus).
The newsman quickly comes around to Arno's theory
of foul play when a photographer who happened
to snap a picture of the train station "accident"
is brutally murdered, his film stolen. A series
of killings soon follows, each with ties in one
way or another to the institute's personnel and/or
the secretive research being done there. Dissatisfied
with the progress being made by the police, Giordani
and Arno team up to pursue their own investigation
of the crimes. The murderer is on to them, however,
and plans to eliminate these amateur sleuths before
they get too close to the truth.
The Cat o' Nine Tails
is a satisfying, if overly drawn out, Italian
whodunit featuring perhaps the best lead performances
in any Argento film. Veteran American actors Karl
Malden (A Streetcar Named
and James Franciscus (Beneath
the Planet of The Apes) play very well
off one another, with each character bringing
his own special attributes to the solving of the
mystery. Malden is particularly good in his role
as the blind puzzle designer. While restraining
himself in the presentation of violence and gore
this time out (the flick is less bloody than 1969's
Bird), Argento nevertheless
retains a few visual tricks up his sleeve — there
are some nicely-helmed stalking scenes and subjective
'killer's view' camera shots here — on the job
training, it would seem, for the director's tour
de force thrillers to follow. The jazz-themed,
often dissonant score by Ennio Morricone also
lends gravitas to the proceedings.
If you're looking for stunning, vicious murders
a la Deep Red, or
the wall-coating arterial spray of Tenebre,
then this early Argento work will likely disappoint.
If you've the patience for a stylish and sometimes
leisurely-paced mystery, Cat
o' Nine Tails should fill the bill admirably.
the film gets less of a deluxe treatment than Argento's
more famous titles, the Anchor Bay disc continues
the company's dedication to presenting the maestro's
work in exemplary fashion. Audio/visual quality
is high; the anamorphic letterbox transfer was struck
from an original, nearly pristine and uncut negative.
Extras include both the U.S. and international trailers
(fine examples of the psychedelic seventies), radio
and TV spots, talent bios, a still/poster gallery,
plus two separate 8-minute American radio interviews
with Franciscus and Malden. (The former has a few
blunt comments about Italian film technicians.)
Best of all is a 14-minute documentary, Tales
of the Cat, featuring subtitled interviews with
Argento, Morricone, and co-writer Dardano Sacchetti.
In it, Argento reveals that Cat
is his least favorite among the films he's directed.
(What? Did you sit through your version of
Dario?) Provided you've never seen
the movie before, be sure to watch the doc after
the conclusion of the film... It gives away the
identity of the murderer.
The disc reviewed here went OOP in 2006. In September
2007 Blue Underground is reissuing the title using
the exact same transfer and extras.