The Cat O’ Nine Tails aka Il Gatto A Nove Code (1971)
The Cat O’ Nine Tails is the second entry in Dario Argento’s “Animal Trilogy” consisting of his directorial debut The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, The Cat O’ Nine Tails, and Four Flies on Grey Velvet. It also happens to be his least favorite of his film cannon.
Written and directed by Dario Argento, the film stars James Franciscus as a reporter named Carlo Giordani and Karl Malden as a blind ex-reporter who now makes puzzles named Franco Arno, nicknamed Cookie by his niece Lori played by Cinzia De Carolis. It also stars Catherine Spaak as Anna Terzi.
The Cat O’ Nine Tails is an underrated giallo. The title gets its name from the nine clues that the protagonists have to follow. Most people, when they think Dario Argento, think Suspiria or Profondo rosso (Deep Red) and fail to give this little gem its dues. It follows a relatively straight forward plot. The word that seems to come up when reading or thinking about this film is that it’s “old fashioned.” This is not a negative. It just means that it is more like your typical thriller and less like his other work. I have also heard it described as an “American” Argento film, sort of like Trauma was considered Dario Argento gone “American”. It has elements of westerns, comedies and the thriller of course but it is not as gory as Tenebre for instance but it does have some momentary violence. The most significant shot is when Dr. Calabresi is pushed in front of a moving train.
A study conducted around the time this film was made proposed the idea that scientists could predict and weed out people with violent tendencies by identifying a genetic chromosome called XYY. Of course in real life this is completely ridiculous but it makes for a good story.
A pharmaceutical company run by Prof. Fulvio Terzi that also does top secret genetic research in this trait XYY is broken into but it seems nothing was taken. But a man, Dr. Calabresi (Carlo Alighiero) who happens to be the only person who knows what was taken and who took it is murdered. Giordani and Arno begin their own investigation. The bodies are piling up but as they track the killer, the killer is tracking them.
Someone with the company has the XYY and will kill to keep this fact a secret.
While this might not be Argento’s best film, and The Bird With the Crystal Plumage is superior, visually it is strong with menacing POV shots. The violence doesn’t have the punch that you might find in Opera or Tenebre for example but it does not take away from the fact that it is a decent giallo. Not the best and it has its problems. In comparison to Argento’s other work it will always be the lesser. Although, I personally feel Phantom of the Opera to be my least favorite of his films.
The DVD presentation is nice, Widescreen, interviews with Dario Argento, Dardano Sacchetti (Co-Story writer) and music composer Ennio Morricone. Radio interviews with its two stars James Franciscus and Karl Malden and more.