The Cat o’ Nine Tails (Blu-ray)

January 10, 2018 9 Min Read

Review by: Jake Keet

Plot: What’s it about?

In the middle of last year, I was very excited to see that Arrow Video was going to release the debut film from director Dario Argento The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. That was a spectacular release and sold well, so now Arrow has done the world a favor and released Dario Argento’s second in the Animal trilogy, The Cat o’ Nine Tails. I was so excited to see – Limited Edition to  all of this Argento come out on Blu-ray this year with Synapse releasing both Phenomena and Suspiria. I personally think that Argento is similar to Brian DePalma in that his films borrow heavily from Hitchcock, but have their own unique feel to them. It is not up for debate whether or not Dario Argento is the greatest voice in Giallo cinema. That said, The Cat o’ Nine Tails is not without its flaws.

The plot revolves around a robbery of a Genetics Laboratory. As the film begins the killer steals some documents from a genetics lab and a security guard is left dead. The only person that may have a clue of what is going on is an older gentlemen that lives nearby. His name is Franco Arno (Karl Malden) and he is a former journalist that works as a crossword puzzle creator. He is also completely blind and relies upon his granddaughter to let him know what he is hearing and looking at. When hotshot journalist Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) begins to investigate the murder, he ends up relying on the help of Franco. The body count rises as the killer strikes repeatedly with them hot on his trail.

This film was made immediately after Argento’s breakthrough film and was made quickly to capitalize on the prior film’s success. The good thing about the film is that it catches Argento still coming off the high of that film and he utilizes some of his greatest visual cues in this film. A scene involving a train and a scene involving an elevator are still a delight to behold. Two of his best conceived shots from his long career. Two technical marvels in one film. The film utilizes the great Karl Malden to great effect and the score by Ennio Morricone is great.

The problem with the film lies in three aspects. The first aspect that is noticeable immediately is that the cinematographer Erico Menczer does not have any of the flair of the legendary Vitorrio Storaro. While he does a capable job, anybody who had seen The Bird With The Crystal Plumage is likely to catch this difference. The other problem is that the film itself feels a bit too “American” to quote Argento from the special feature interview on the disc. This works against so,e of the spark from the previous film. The third is that the pacing is just a little slower than it should be. This probably has to do with the length of the story which could have easily lost a couple twists and felt tighter and left the audience happier overall.

To Argento, who discusses this at length in the special feature, this film feels good but not great. He does not consider it to be one of his best films, and I am tempted to agree with him. That said, I enjoyed watching it and I am glad to own it. Even his lesser films from this peak period in his career are still pretty magical.

Video: How’s it look?

A brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negatives has been done for this classic. The transfer is another strong effort by Arrow Video and the image looks fantastic, retaining the grain and demonstrating great amounts of detail. As mentioned above, this film does not have the visual punch of the cinematography of Vitorrio Storaro, but there is still plenty to gaze upon and enjoy in the film. I really appreciate the attention to detail that Arrow Video is giving these films.

Audio: How’s it sound?

Arrow Video has provided both an English and Italian LPCM Mono Track. I listened to the film intermittently in both languages and found that they both held up well. I personally preferred the English track because the American actors seem more natural in English. The score from Ennio Morricone is really solid. Even if it is not quite as memorable as the previous score, it fits the film very well. Obviously with these tracks being Mono tracks the range is incredibly limited. The dialogue is crisp and clear and I did not notice much hiss at all. This is a solid effort and fans are not likely to complain.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Original ending – a recreation of the lost original ending that Argento deemed too American and removed. The original footage has not been found so script pages are shown with stills from the film that correspond pretty well!
  • Giallo in Turin –  An interview with production manager Angelo Iacono. He talks about working with Dario and Dario’s father Salvatore who was the producer while also discussing his memories of working on the film and the actors. This is a very sweet interview. Recorded exclusively for this release in 2017.
  • Nine Lives – an absolutely fantastic interview with the beloved director Dario Argento. Argento gives honest feedback about the film and it is well worth hearing what he has to say. Recorded exclusively for this release in 2017.
  • The Writer o’ Many Tales – Dardano Sacchetti, co-writer of the film, gives an extended interview on the process of making the film with Argento. It was his first film to write but he went on to write several cult classic films. IMDB him and you will be amazed at all he has written in his career. This is a great feature where he goes in between criticizing and praising his sometime friend and collaborator Dario Argento. This might be an even better feature than the Argento interview. Recorded exclusively for this release in 2017.
  • Interview with Cinzia de Carolis – due to a disk printing error this feature was inaccessible for review but has been corrected on the disks that shipped.
  • Italian, international, and US Domestic Theater Trailers
  • Commentary by Allen Jones and Kim Newman – two authorities on Giallo and Argento discuss the film in depth. This is a chatty conversation where they laugh and discuss numerous aspects of the film. This is a good commentary with a good flow to it.

The Bottom Line

The Cat o’ Nine Tails is a good film but not without its flaws. I probably would rate the film about an eight out of ten, because Argento still flexes some of his artistic muscle in the film and does plenty of interesting things. That said, the overall numerical score for the release itself deserves higher praise than an eight out of ten. Arrow Video have provided some excellent supplements including an excellent and informative interview with Dario Argento and an amazing interview with his collaborator Dardano Sacchetti specifically for this release. If you have the slightest interest in the Giallo genre, I would start with The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, but then I would go ahead and pick this one up next. We can only hope that Arrow decides to release Four Flies on Grey Velvet to round out the trilogy.

Disc Scores