The Cat O’ Nine Tails

cast: Karl Malden, James Franciscus, Catherine Spaak, Cinzia De Carolis, and Carlo Alighiero

director: Dario Argento

112 minutes (unrated) 1970
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Anchor Bay DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Tony Lee

After a break-in at the bio-labs of a genetics research institute, dogged reporter Carlos (James Franciscus) teams up with blind puzzle-maker Arnó (Karl Malden) to solve a murder mystery and catch a maniacal strangler…
This was Argento’s second film as director, after his acclaimed The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1969) and, while it confirmed his growing confidence as a visual stylist, the fussily detailed plotting (industrial espionage or serial killer?) and heavy reliance on dialogues to define characterisation in The Cat O’ Nine Tails found Italy’s soon-to-be premier horror maestro still working to escape the shadow of Hitchcock. The scenario is centred on then-current scientific intrigues of XYY chromosome chains, explained here as the cause of a bearer personality’s otherwise motiveless inclination towards criminal behaviour.
Woven into the seeming high level conspiracy is a crooked locksmith, a visit to a gay men’s club, some poisoned milk, the ruthless kidnap of a little girl, robbery from a family crypt (where the blind sidekick stands as lookout!), and a thrilling rooftop chase scene. If you ever get confused by Argento’s typically convoluted narrative, it’s important to remember that uncertainty and misdirection are part of his oeuvre – even though this did not become readily apparent until Profondo Rosso (aka: Deep Red, 1975).
The Cat O’ Nine Tails is no masterpiece, of course. Of all his films, Argento himself dislikes it most. But it is a worthwhile thriller and certainly presents some unquestionable evidence of this director’s gift for dramatic camera movements, and startling choice of viewpoint angles, in many crucial scenes.
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DVD extras: featurette Tales Of The Cat (14 minutes) includes interviews with the director, and composer (Ennio Morricone). There are also radio interviews with the stars, trailers, TV spots, poster and stills gallery, and talent biographies.