The Cat o' Nine Tails

10/25/2017 18:47

Film: The Cat o’ Nine Tails (Il gatto a nove code)

Year: 1971

Director: Dario Argento

Writer: Dario Argento

Starring: James Franciscus, Karl Malden and Catherine Spaak



This film is one that I saw early on into seeking out the filmography of co-writer/director Dario Argento. I wasn’t as well versed in giallo films at the time so I thought it was okay. For my second viewing, it was in the theater when the Gateway Film Center did an Argento month. Being much more versed in this subgenre, I’m giving it a third viewing as part of my Odyssey through the Ones. I’ve also gotten another chance to see this on the big screen thanks to the Wexner Center for the Arts during their Argento appreciation.

Synopsis: a newspaper reporter and a retired, blind journalist try to solve a series of killings connected to a pharmaceutical company’s experimental, top-secret research projects and in so doing, become targets of the killer.

We start with the blind man from the synopsis, Franco Arnò (Karl Malden), who is walking with his niece of Lori (Cinzia De Carolis). We learn later that he has no other family and is a retired journalist who is now blind due to an accident. Lori’s parents have passed away. This duo passes a car and he goes to tie his shoe. While he does, he asks Lori to get a look back and see who is in the car. Franco overheard a conversation between those who were inside. She can see the driver, but not the passenger.

We then get a point of view shot. They break into what we learn to be an institute where they study genetics and perform experimental treatments. Whoever we are seeing through knocks out the guard and uses a screwdriver to jimmy open a door. The person then goes in to where there are files. Someone trying to enter discovers the knocked-out security guard and an alert is triggered.

The police are called in and Police Supt. Spini (Pier Paolo Capponi) is in charge. A journalist also shows up for a scoop. His name is Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus). Upon his arrival, he bumps into Franco. This is an interesting look that Carlo is a bit brash, but at once apologizes. He also might not be as observant as he should be.

Carlo goes inside and we get to meet the people who work here. The man who founded and runs the hospital is Prof. Fulvio Terzi (Tino Carraro). With him is his daughter of Anna (Catherine Spaak). There is also Dr. Braun (Horst Frank), Dr. Casoni (Aldo Reggiani), Dr. Esson (Tom Felleghy) and Dr. Mobelli (Emilio Marchesini). They meet to figure out what the purpose of the break-in was. Dr. Casoni throws out that there could be corporate espionage, but he is shot down. It is said that is not possible as it doesn’t seem like the files were disturbed.

Dr. Calabresi (Carlo Alighiero) was one of the men from the car. He looks at the files and knows what was stolen. He contacts someone in the meeting and reveals that he knows the truth. He sets up a time to meet with them. At the designated location, we got another POV shot. Whoever this person is, they push Dr. Calabresi onto the train tracks to cover the crime they committed. As this happens, there are paparazzi there to photograph a famous woman on the train arriving. One of them happened to snap a picture when the crime happened. This photographer is Righetto (Vittorio Congia).

The story is run that it is an accident. When Franco is brought the paper by Lori, she notices the man in the car from the night before. Franco then reaches out to Carlo. He wants him to look at the full picture that was cropped for the paper and this leads them to Rigehetto. The killer also knows this. Whoever they are, they are tying up loose ends. The problem is the more they kill, the more people that notice the pattern, making this web even more entangled.

That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that this movie has grown on me. This is a review that I’m updating now after my third viewing and it was interesting to see what my initial thoughts were. What I like is that our main characters aren’t police officers. We have a journalist with Carlo and a blind, former reporter with Franco. The police aren’t bumbling here either. They are connecting similar dots and even believe once evidence is turned over to them. Franco is putting his life, Carlo’s and even Lori’s in danger by treating this like one of his word puzzles. When they do turn information over, the cops help tighten up who the suspects are. This feels like Argento growing as a filmmaker with the story as it is more believable with the reason this duo is investigating.

Going from there, I do know the first time I saw this; I didn’t necessarily care for the story. The second time I didn’t remember who the killer was, but the overall product worked better for me as I said. It was after these viewings that appreciated what this movie is doing even more. Franco overhears this conversation and the whole movie is the hidden passenger trying to ensure they aren’t discovered. They then kill Righetto who took a picture of them. Then it must be Bianca Merusi (Rada Rassimov) for a note they found. It all makes sense. Committing crimes like this gets more complicated the more that is done.

Before I get into what I was alluding to, I will say that Argento isn’t afraid to take on science that might not be able to be proven. There is this idea that gets explained in the movie by Dr. Casoni that an extra Y chromosome could explain violent individuals. There is a study he is referencing that shows a high number of murderers and violent criminals have the XYY genetic make-up. This comes into play with the killer here and I like it how it all works out in the end.

Next then should be the mystery. For me, if a giallo is one where I predict the killer early on, then I’m not always the biggest fan. The first time I saw this, I had no idea and I liked that it kept me guessing. The second time I had forgotten but knew where we were going. Having seen it as much as I have, I remember the killer was and I was able to piece things together. That helped me to enjoy this even more since I can confirm that it isn’t cheating which is good.

I feel that is enough for the story, so I’ll go next to the acting. Franciscus has a good look as our lead. He’s quite confident in himself and it comes off a bit like he’s a jerk. We see this with interactions with Anna. He does have a good heart despite the things that he does. Malden is great though as Franco. He is fun, even though the stakes he’s playing with are high. Spaak is attractive and we do see her topless. Her character is strong-willed which I did like. Other than that, I thought Capponi, Frank, Rassimov, Reggiani, Alighiero and the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.

All that is left then is filmmaking. I’ll start with the effects. We don’t get a lot of them. What we do looks realistic. I can always commend Argento for that. The blood we get looks good as well. What is great is how masterfully done was the cinematography. We get flashes to the eye of the killer. That is a bit of a trademark there. There are POV shots as well that will become more famous for the slasher films that will come in the next decade. Aside from that, the transitions work in an interesting way. Argento just has a way to construct a mystery like this that works. The last thing I’ll go into would be the soundtrack. We aren’t getting a classic one here with Ennio Morricone, but I still think this one works. It has jazz vibes to it, which fits the era and these types of movies. It isn’t iconic as others from this filmmaker or composer. I still think this one works for what was needed.

In conclusion here, this one just keeps growing on me with every viewing. I think that Argento constructs an interesting giallo. The two reporters piece together this mystery where a killer keeps making it harder at each turn. The scientific aspect plays into it with an interesting angle. The acting is good. Franciscus is good as our lead, but Malden steals the show. I think it shot beautifully and the effects work. The soundtrack also fits right along with it. Overall, this isn’t in my top 5 of Argento’s filmography. This is a well-made giallo from an expert filmmaker regardless. I would say this is a good movie in my opinion and would recommend giving it a viewing if you’re a fan of this subgenre.


My Rating: 8 out of 10