The Cat O’Nine Tails [il gatto a nove code] is largely regarded (tenuously so) as the second instalment of Dario Argento’s Animal Trilogy, sandwiched between The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1971) and Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1974). While it does lack some of the panache of those two films, the Karl Malden vehicle is still a largely enjoyable fare, seemingly influenced by The Spiral Suitcase and Hitchcock’s Suspicion, and containing some visuals that would be seen again in Deep Red (1975).
Upon walking home one evening with his niece Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) – who affectionately refers to him as “Cookie” (or Biscottino depending on whether you’re watching the English or Italian dub) – Franco Arnò (Malden), a blind crossword writer overhears a conversation which sounds suspiciously like blackmail in a car near his apartment. He thinks nothing more until a break-in at The Terzi Institute, a genetics lab, triggers a number of deaths. Ex-newspaper man Arnò joins forces with the handsome and charismatic investigative journalist Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) and together, they do a little digging and attempt to solve the mystery, which in true Gialli style, picks off anybody who edges closer to the truth, via some nifty subjective camerawork before revealing the killer.
The Cat O’Nine Tails is an unique entry into the Argento oeuvre because it is the only film to remain uncensored in any parts of the world, and yet, by his own admission, it is one of the filmmaker’s least favourite. He believes it to be “too American”. Perhaps, it is the sprawling narrative which fixates on genetics and the XXY chromosome which can distinguish criminality – the murder gene – and the nine leads which make it increasingly convoluted and by the time the end arrives, and on a rooftop no less, the killer’s reveal feels rather arbitrary.
Less than twenty minutes in, there’s a tremendous set-piece involving a train and corpse; in addition to murder, intrigue, jump-cuts, extreme close-ups, recurring visual motifs – the filmmaker’s use of colour really is second only to Bava – glorious costumes courtesy of Luca Sabatelli and charming performances from Malden and child actor De Carolis, all backed extraordinarily by a subtle yet jarring score by that little-known composer, Ennio Morricone. While it is regarded as a lesser Argento – although not to the degree of Dracula 3D – The Cat O’Nine Tails is a stylish little number, perhaps not narratively speaking but as per Argento, a visual treat.
Arrow Video once again fleshes out their restoration with extras, although this time not quite as many or as varied as expected, the greatest achievement is that 4K restoration, the 1080p presentation, and the newly translated English subtitles for the soundtrack. The audio commentary is provided by Argento author and father of FrightFest Alan Jones, who is joined by critic/author Kim Newman. The commentary does contain spoilers so it is advisable to watch the film beforehand but it’s interesting, personally, I could listen to Alan Jones read a shopping list, but both men have fun and their vast knowledge is more than put to good use.
Nine Lives (15:22) – An exclusive interview with co-writer/director Dario Argento recorded for Arrow Video in 2017 written, edited and directed by Federico Caddeo. In it, the filmmaker discusses the story and how he regards it as a sequel to The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and how he found shooting in Turin.
The Writer O’Many Tales (34:46) – Dardano Sacchetti wrote CONT with Argento and in this extended interview, the Italian writer discusses his career in detail, from his filmic first memory to how he met Dario Argento, and how he spent his pay check. It’s a little drawn out, and far more about the man than the film, and also twice as long as the Argento segment, in which he’s incredibly respectful to his ex-collaborator but make no mistake, there’s no love lost between the two men.
Child Star – Another new interview, this time with actress Cinzia De Carolis. This was unavailable at the time of review due to a disc error.
Giallo in Turin (15:09) – A chat with production manager Angelo Iacono, in it he discusses his 16-year relationship (seven films) with Dario Argento whom he describes as “adorable”.
Original Ending (3:07) – As originally written, The Cat O’Nine Tails didn’t end with the death of [redacted]. Footage was shot of Lori being rescued and an epilogue featuring Giordani and Terzi. While the original footage is now lost, the script pages survive and are presented here in English for the first time, containing lobby card images from the ending.
Trailers: Italian Theatrical (1:46), International Theatrical (1:52), US Domestic Theatrical Trailer (1:37)
Also included as part of the boxset is reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp, a double-sided fold-out poster, four lobby card reproductions and (unavailable for review) a 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.