Cat o’ Nine Tails was Dario Argento’s second film, and a real step down from his first, The Bird With Crystal Plumage. It’s the usual giallo with a convoluted plot—it’s got a reporter who has teamed up with a blind puzzle-maker, who become amateur detectives. There’s a robbery at a genetics institute, and the reporter had heard about a blackmail plot, which turns out to be connected. People are getting killed left and right. The niece of the puzzle-maker, Franco (Karl Malden) soon becomes a possible victim of the killer.
It’s a pretty ridiculous film, that lacks any of the operatic, hallucinogenic stuff that you normally want from an Argento. The pacing is very slow over the film’s two hours, and most viewers will quickly lose interest. It’s messy and many of the plot strands just never come together. There are a couple of good bits and some nice shots, including a late scene with someone falling through an elevator shaft, but it doesn’t work compared to most of his films. He is at his best when the more fantastical elements are included, as with Suspiria. This one, however, doesn’t really add up.
Malden is one of the unsung actors who has been in so many great movies, and while he turns in a big performance he is pretty much wasted in it. Even Argento has said Cat o’ Nine Tails is one of his least favourite films, and he has over the course of his long career made some real stinkers. All in all, it’s a disappointment.
It features an Ennio Morricone score, which is alright, although he has done better work for Argento elsewhere, and for other giallo directors. I also prefer Argento’s work when it’s accompanied by the crazy prog of Goblin, which tends to fit better with what’s on screen. Argento followed it with Four Flies on Grey Velvet later the same year, and then his little-seen revolution comedy, The Five Days of Milan, which has only been released on DVD in Germany and Italy.
However, as expected from Arrow there are some great extras: There is a commentary from Alan Jones and Kim Newman, who are the go-to guys for Argento, plus interviews with Argento, a co-writer, production manager, and one of the actresses. The trailers are also included. This limited edition version has a double-sided poster, a lobby card reproductions, and a massive booklet on the film.