Director – Dario Argento
Cast – James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak, Pier Paolo Capponi, Horst Frank, Rada Rassimov, Aldo Reggiani, Carlo Alighiero
Release Year – 1971
Reviewed by John of the Dead
After giving us his amazing debut effort, The Bird With The Crystal Plummage, famed Italian director Dario Argento gave us another standout entry in the giallo sub-genre with The Cat O’Nine Tails. Often overlooked due to how amazing his other films surrounding this piece were, this watch once again gives us the classic Argento greatness associated with his giallo efforts, making for an under-appreciated experience sure to please fans of such flicks.
When mysterious killings rock a pharmaceutical company associated with top secret research, a reporter and retired blind journalist try to solve the killings and unearth the company’s relation to them, ultimately making them targets of the killer as well.
If you are familiar with giallo films then you know of the template often employed by the screenwriters, where a reporter/journalist of some sort gets involved with a grisly killer and bypasses the authorities to catch the killer himself, and I cannot ever tire of these stories. Argento’s screenplay brings with it some unique elements that I have yet to see in these storylines, such as a blind protagonist and the use of a medical research facility. The blind man, Franco Arno, is a kind old man who for the last 15 years has suffered blindness due to an accident, but has yet to lose his investigative knack and quickly jumps on the case despite his disability. Our other protagonist, Carlo Giordani, is the usual handsome bachelor fella who does what it takes to get to the bottom of the mystery, and these two teamed together made for some enjoyable character play. We are given several other characters thrown into the mix, all in supportive roles that managed to play into the mystery fairly well when clues surface that anyone can be a suspect. The mystery element was awesome and as mentioned earlier brought with it a cool idea in it involving a medical research lab doing secretive experiments. We watch as a conspiracy unfolds where a scientist is killed following a break it at the laboratory, and then all of those with knowledge of the crime are slowly killed off as Franco and Carlo try and identify the killer. For an Argento film I found this one to be fairly simple and without “frills” as the kills were quite tame and consisted mostly of our killer choking his victims with a small rope, but these simple kill sequences did little to deter my enjoyment as I was glued to the screen regardless thanks to the interesting storyline. As expected, the film goes down to the very wire regarding who the killer is, and while I was not as enamored by the revealing of the killer as I usually am with Argento films it was not a sorrow climax by any means, marking the end to a great story.
Argento’s direction aided in selling this enjoyable story to the viewer, with his expert execution and cinematography that takes full advantage of the amazing sets provided by Rome, Italy. Argento has stated that despite the film’s initial success this is his least favorite film, and in a sense I can see why. The horror did not hit as hard as I wanted it to, and that was with Argento still executed the horror to positive levels, and I was left wanting just a little bit more when the end credits began to roll. I mentioned that the climax was not as great as I expected it to be, and while the storyline could have improved it I felt that Argento kept it a bit tame in his direction and failed to make it as creepy as his killer revelation scenes usually are. Aside from this I did enjoy his direction and he managed to keep me entertained, which came as a result of great kill execution and awesome performances from our protagonists. I was very impressed with Karl Malden’s performance as the blind Franco, a man who displayed joy in his life despite suffering a hindering disability thanks to a lovely young niece he cares for. Malden was great in bringing this character to life despite him not providing the action that Carlo did, making for a great directing/acting duo in Malden and Argento.
Overall, The Cat O’ Nine Tails is an enjoyable Argento piece that while possibly serving as one of his “lesser” films still manages to deliver what we want to see from such an experience.