Dario Argento’s Second Giallo Stars Karl Malden & Catherine Spaak
Following the critical and box office success of his debut feature, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Italian director Dario Argento was looking to quickly capitalize on its success with another movie. Lacking the stylistic touches of Argento’s latter films, The Cat O’ Nine Tails is a relatively restrained, straightforward whodunit thriller in the giallo mold. A film deemed too “American” by the director himself, the movie is considered an uneven and lesser entry in Argento’s distinguished body of work.
The second entry in Argento’s so-called ”Animal Trilogy” found the director still honing his distinctive style. The giallo thriller stars Karl Malden playing a blind man and co-stars Catherine Spaak (Il Sorpasso) and Rada Rassimov (Baron Blood). Iconic composer Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly) provides yet another memorable score soaring with tension and suspense. Morricone’s score may very well be the best and most convincing element of this giallo.
When a mysterious break-in occurs at a secretive genetics facility, the blind Franco Arno (Karl Malden, Patton) teams up with intrepid reporter Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus, Beneath the Planet of the Apes) to solve the case. Franco had overheard an attempt to blackmail one of the institute’s scientists shortly before the robbery, accidentally getting involved in this mystery. Franco cares for his young niece Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) who helps him get around town. People connected to the case start getting killed by an unseen killer. Before long, deaths begin to pile up and the investigative duo find their own lives threatened.
Likable characters help the thriller maintain tension
Likable characters help the thriller maintain tension
Argento had begun developing something of a reputation by this time as the next big thing in thrillers since Hitchcock. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage was a smashing success and his distributors wanted another thriller. It’s easy to see why, the Italian genre legend’s fingerprints are all over The Cat O’ Nine Tails. That being said, some of it is less than inspired. The slinky whodunit mystery offers a standard cocktail of giallo tropes, from the vivacious female lead to a litany of suspects for the killer. Argento puts it all together with some magnificent setpieces, including a taut finale involving the killer’s reveal.
Karl Malden was always a wonderful character actor in Hollywood and he’s perfect here in his role. His blind man is an interesting protagonist, clearly modeled after Jimmy Stewart’s character in Hitchcock’s classic Rear Window. Vulnerable due to their physical limitations, both are humanized by companions. In this case, Franco’s cute relationship with his young niece makes for anxious viewing when the audience realizes she’s a perfect target for the killer.
The Cat O’ Nine Tails isn’t Argento’s best work but it’s solid giallo storytelling with a decent plot. Likable characters help the thriller maintain tension even when the mystery introduces too many red herrings for the killer’s identity. It’s certainly a movie every Argento fan should see at some point.
Arrow Video gives us a beautiful 4K restoration from the original camera negative. The movie has simply never looked better. The tight 2.35:1 presentation has ample texture and excellent grain reproduction. Given a perfect AVC encode on a BD-50, the elements remain in remarkable condition.
It’s hard to point to any serious criticisms of this well-done transfer. A touch of processing is evident around the edges. The largely sharp 1080P video has some mild softness endemic to the original cinematography. This is a faithful, authentic representation of the film in fantastic shape.
Less stylized than some of Argento’s other films, The Cat O’ Nine Tails has sturdy picture quality that doesn’t immediately grab you. The palette isn’t as colorful as other giallo thrillers. What we get is a steady contrast with decent definition. Black levels are never really a problem, if a bit lacking in the finest gradations of shadow and light.
Both the Italian and English dub soundtrack are heard in crisp 1.0 DTS-HD MA, perfectly replicating the original mono soundtracks. Morricone’s score comes through in robust fidelity on both options. The English dub does include Karl Malden’s own voice, making it a palatable choice for non-Italian speakers. The 1970 film has serviceable monaural audio, including intelligible dialogue.
A new English translation for the subtitles are provided for the Italian soundtrack. English SDH is an option for the English dub. Both display in a white font, remaining inside the scope presentation at all times.
The two-disc (Blu-ray and DVD) limited edition set is already rumored to be sold out before release, so good luck getting a first pressing. This is already a hot item on the collector’s market with its superior A/V quality and new special features.
Arrow Video has commissioned a wide range of new interviews for the movie, including Dario Argento himself. It should be mentioned that the actor interviews found on the much older Blue Underground Blu-ray, now long out of print, have not been brought over. Superfans may want to hold on to that disc for them.
All interviews are in Italian with English subtitles.
• New audio commentary by critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman – Arrow Video veteran commentator Kim Newman really hosts this commentary for Argento biographer Jones. This is a loose discussion that touches upon many different production elements. Jones offers insights into a wide range of topics, everything from his opinion on Anna’s ridiculous wardrobe to location shooting in Turin.
• Nine Lives (15:57 in HD) – A new interview with Dario Argento that details his thoughts on working with the cast and other insightful recollections.
• Writer O’ Many Tales (34:46 in HD) – Screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti is interviewed at length about his career and remembrances of this film.
• Child Star: Cinzia De Carolis (11:02 in HD) – The young actress that played Lori has grown up and gets interviewed here.
• Giallo in Turin: Angelo Iacono, Production Manager (15:11 in HD) – A featurette with Angelo Iacono, who worked closely with Argento producing the film.
• Original Ending (03:09 in HD) – Rare script pages for the lost original ending, translated into English for the first time. They detail an ending Argento decided to change.
• Original Italian, American and international theatrical trailers
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp
• Double-sided fold-out poster
• 4 lobby card reproductions
• Limited edition booklet illustrated by Matt Griffin, featuring an essay on the film by Dario Argento, and new writing by Barry Forshaw, Troy Howarth and Howard Hughes
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