Movie Review: Cat O’ Nine Tails

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The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971)
Directed Dario Argento
Starring James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak, Pier Paolo Capponi, Horst Frank, Tino Carraro, Rada Rassimov, Aldo Reggiani, Carlo Alighiero

This has always been my favorite of Argento’s Animal Trilogy. Even though the reveal at the end of the film doesn’t have the big “It’s You!” payoff that a good thriller might have, this is a giallo after all so it comes down to many other things. But having a blind puzzle maker as one of the main protagonists is something that I’ve always thought was a cool idea, and Malden does an excellent job here.

There is plenty of interesting camera work that was helping set Argento on his path of being a very visual filmmaker, with extreme closeups of the killer’s eyeball, and lots of POV shots. This really sets up the mood where we are the killer in some moments. It’s funny how this mode of camera work was said to start in the ’80s slasher films, when the Italians were doing it years before.

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My fondness of this picture might just be due to the score by Ennio Morricone. Not sure why, but the opening track just draws me in each and every time, as Malden and the young girl are walking home at night past the car with the mysterious figures in there. The rest of the score has more of a jazz feel, which really sets the mood for the rest of the film, which is even more interesting since I’m not a fan of jazz! But for some reason, I’ve always been drawn to it.

I think the two main characters, Malden and the newspaper reporter played by James Franciscus work well together, each of them trying to put a few more pieces to the puzzle, but never really getting it until the end. Then the tension builds and gives us an exciting ending. We do get a little more violence here than we did in Argento’s first film, but nothing like what was to come later. But the sequence at the train station is highly memorable!

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This new disc from Arrow comes with plenty of extras, including a very fun and informative commentary track from Alan Jones, author of Dario Argento: The Man, the Myth, & the Magic, along with Kim Newman, author of many great films books himself. The two work well together on the commentary, almost like a couple of friends watching a flick while discussing its merits in a very causal but interesting way. You’ll learn plenty about the film and the people involved.

There are also new interviews with Argento himself, co-writer Dardano Sacchetti (who always has some great stories), actress Cinzia De Carolis (although the review disc that I got, when you selected this feature, it went to the Sacchetti interview), and production manager Angelo Iacono. The great thing about these kind of interviews, even after all of these years, you can still learn a lot of about the feature, Argento, and those that worked with him. Great stuff.

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The new 4K restoration of the film looks incredible and is so nice to be able to watch it like this. After seeing this film originally from bootleg copies many generations down from the original, it does this old cinephile’s heart wonder to see this happen.

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