Sandwiched between Dario Argento’s mesmerising debut movie The Bird with The Crystal Plumage and the up-tempo madness of Four Flies on Grey Velvet, industrial espionage thriller Cat O’Nine Tails is the overlooked middle child in boggle-eyed auteur’s ‘Animals Trilogy’. The tale of blind former journalist-turned crossword designer played by Karl Malden who investigates murders linked to genetic research into the criminal psychosis chromosome, it hardly breaks the giallo mould but goes through the motions with finesse.
The casting is spot-on. Malden’s probing into the case leads him to join forces with a fellow journalist Carlo Giordani, who, in the hands of James Franciscus (fresh from Beneath the Planet of the Apes) brings just the right degree of crusading gravitas. Young Cinzia de Carolis as Malden’s granddaughter assists them without once making you want to stick your boot through the TV like most other child actors, while French actress Catherine Spaak as the inevitable mysterious women at the heart of the mystery has the ice maiden routine nailed.
Back in the 1980s, when the only way to get hold of Argento’s work uncut was on low-generation VHS bootlegs with atrocious sound and murky picture, his earlier works failed to impress next to the audio-visual assault of Deep Red, Suspiria, Inferno and Tenebrae. Now remastered in 4K with all the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from Arrow, The Cat O’ Nine Tails positively bristles with stylish confidence. The night-time cinematography and widescreen compositions are often exquisite and the murder scenes, while relatively restrained, are staged with Argento’s signature theatricality. Indeed, the railway terminus killing of Dr. Calabresi near the start of the film is one of the most bizarre and beautifully choreographed of Argento’s career. The mounting paranoia is accented by a score from the great Ennio Morricone, who was sprinkling his music like confetti at this point in time.
The set is rounded off by a decent set of extras including new interviews with Argento, co-writer Dardano Sacchetti, actress Cinzia De Carolis and production manager Angelo Iacono. Argento doesn’t hide his antipathy towards the film, particularly the American stylings he brought to it, something he was ‘guilty’ of throughout his career so it’s odd that he singles this out as the worst offender. Anyway, he freely admits his concerns at the time receded as soon as he realised he had another box office hit on his hands. Those were the days, eh Dario?
THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS (1971) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: DARIO ARGENTO / SCREENPLAY: DARIO ARGENTO / STARRING: KARL MALDEN, JAMES FRANCISCUS, CINZIA DE CAROLIS CATHERINE SPAAK / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 29TH