Written by: Michael Den Boer on July 20th, 2004
Theatrical Release Date: Italy, February 11th, 1971
Director: Dario Argento
Writers: Dario Argento, Luigi Collo,Dardano Sacchetti
Cast: James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak, Pier Paolo Capponi
DVD released: July 10th, 2001
Approximate running time: 112 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English, Dolby Digital Mono Italian, Dolby Digital Mono French
DVD Release: Anchor Bay
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $24.98
Caught between the truth and a murderer’s hand!
A blind-man Franco Arno (Karl Malden), witnesses while walking near the Terzi Institute shortly before the break-in over hears two men arguing. Arno has his adopted daughter Lori (Cinzia De Carolis), look at the men sitting in the car and describe them. The next morning Arno visits the Terzi Institute for genetic research to see if anything happened the night before. He meets a reporter Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus), who is assigned to the story. One of the Terzi Institute’s leading researchers falls in front of a passing train the morning after the break in at the Terzi Institute. He was attempting to blackmail the killer and when the killer pushed him in front of the passing train a photographer Righetto (Vittorio Congia), is the next victim as the killer knocks him off before washing another lead up. Arno and Giordani team up to solve the mystery as they interview the employees of the Institute to uncover some leads. As Arno closes in on the killer Giordani is more concerned with Anna (Catherine Spaak), the mysterious daughter of the institute chairman Professor Terzi (Tino Carraro). The killer is always one step ahead of Arno and Giordani and the killer forces their hand by kidnapping Arno’s adopted daughter Lori.
Dario Argento has been called the Italian Alfred Hitchcock even though his style more resembles Brian De Palma’s. The Cat O’ Nine Tails is Argento’s second film and it is part of his animal trilogy which also includes The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Four Flies on Grey Velvet. Ennio Morricone composed the scores for these three films know as the animal trilogy. While most of his contemporaries were working on shoe string budgets Argento resources due in part to his father producer Salvatore Argento were far greater allowing Argento to work with in a larger Budget allowing him to hire American stars giving his production a more international appeal? Argento has referred to The Cat O’ Nine Tails as his least favorite film as a director. The Cat O’ Nine Tails doesn’t have the gore and violent set pieces that Argento’s later films are most know for, still what it lacks in visceral tone it makes up for in Argento’s lush visual style. The Cat O’ Nine Tails is one Argento’s more experimental film’s as he was just finding himself as a filmmaker. He uses several shots in the film that he would return to many times throughout his career like the shot of the killers eyeball. Argento’s subjective camera stalks its victims while concealing the identity of the killer.
Two standout scenes in the film are extremely well executed train death and the films finale is a tour de force as Argento’s direction, with the editing and Morricone’s score make this finally one of Argento’s best endings. James Franciscus is laid back as Giordani and Karl Malden conveys a great deal of emotion through his facial expressions and his tone of voice. They are a great team as both actors give good performances and the rest of the cast is adequate. The Cat O’ Nine Tails screenplay co-written by Argento with Dardano Sacchetti and Luigi Collo is the films weakest link. Argento’s previous film The Bird with the Crystal Plumage featured a more structured storyline, while The Cat O’ Nine Tails moves from one event to the next in a more fractured way. Ennio Morricone’s score starts off sweet before transcending into some of his darkest jazz improvisations.
The Cat O’ Nine Tails is presented in its original 2:35:1 aspect ration and it has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Details are sharp as the image is clear through out and grain is kept to a minimum. Outside of one or two minor defects from the source print this 30 year old film is in excellent condition. Argento shot all of his films up to Suspiria in Technicolor and The Cat O’ Nine Tails lush colors look fantastic on this DVD transfer. Flesh tones look natural and the seventies era decor comes alive once again in Technicolor digital transfer. Argento is a master of composition and with The Cat O’ Nine Tails he uses every inch of the frame to his fullest advantage.
There are three audio options on this DVD English, Italian and French Dolby Surround 2.0 mono. The dialogue is clear through out and Ennio Morricone’s haunting Giallo/Western hybrid score has never sounded better. Most of the action comes from the front speakers and outside of sound effects the back speakers are for the most part quite. The subtitles are easy to read and follow.
Extras include a 14-minute featurette "Tales of the Cat", featuring interviews with director/co-writer Dario Argento, co-writer Dardano Sacchetti, and composer Ennio Morricone as they speak Italian during the featurette there easy to read yellow subtitles. There are two radio interviews with stars James Franciscus and Karl Malden that each runs about 8 minutes in length. Other extras include two radio spots 30 seconds and 55 seconds in length as well as the films the U.S. and international trailers for The Cat O’ Nine Tails. Rounding out the extras is a still gallery with 43 stills, biographies of the main cast and crew and liner notes by Travis Crawford.
After years of suffering through cropped/pan and scanned versions with washed out colors Anchor Bay has put a lot of TLC into this DVD for The Cat O’ Nine Tails. First time viewers or Argento fans are given the best version ever available on home video in North America. The Cat O’ Nine Tails may not be one of Argento’s more popular films still it is a fascinating Giallo unlike anything Argento had done before or since. Anchor Bay’s DVD has given The Cat O’ Nine Tails a second life, so check it out.