The Cat O' Nine Tails, originally released as Il gatto a nove code, is a 1971 Italian mystery thriller written and directed by horror maestro Dario Argento. It was his second film as a director. This article will provide a review on this film.
The film sees Franco Arno, a blind ex-journalist played by Karl Malden, with a penchant for puzzles teaming up with reporter Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) to solve a string of strange murders connected to a genetics research institute.
Those hoping for a European bondage movie will be disappointed to discover that the film’s title does not refer to a cat o'nine tails whip, but instead to the multitude of leads that the protagonists follow to find the murderer. Likewise, the fans of Argento’s gore-fests may feel let down. It is less bloody than his debut The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and his later works. The film feels slightly clumsy, with too many implausible happenings. Rather than increasing the sense of tension, the amount of red herrings starts to get frustrating.
There are some memorable moments. The dazzlingly camera-work from the subjective perspective of the criminal makes for some unnerving stalking sequences. The scene at the train station where one victim meets his unfortunate end becomes even more startling when you realise that the camera which sweeps from left to right are actually the eyes of the killer waiting for his opportunity to pounce. The glorious final rooftop seen is deliciously disorientating.
There are deft touches of black humour. When Giodarni visits a barber for a shave, the coiffeur rants about newspaper speculation that the murderer is a barber. He explicitly describes how he would slit someone’s throat, whilst shaving an increasingly agitated Giodarni. The presence of the Oscar winner Karl Malden as Arno and the good looks of James Franciscus as Giodarni make for an unconventional, but interesting crime fighting duo.
Look of the movie Filmed in the 1970s, the look of the movie is fantastically retro and there are some wonderfully grisly and stylish touches, such as one victim's wallpaper resembling a blood-splattered wall. In Maitland McDonagh’s book Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento, the director himself reveals he was not a fan of the movie and it has received a mixed response. However, it is worth remembering that it was only his second feature and despite this, the newly perfect signs of his budding genius are here.