Following the success of his 1970 film debut The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Dario Argento directed another puzzling-titled whodunit, The Cat O Nine Tails, the following year, starring Karl Malden (The Streets of San Francisco) and James Franciscus (Beneath the Planet of the Apes).
Malden plays blind crossword puzzle expert Cookie, while Franciscus is wily reporter Carlo Giordani. The unlikely pair becomes amateur sleuths following a break-in at a pharmaceutical institute in Rome. When doctors attached to the development of a revolutionary new drug start getting bumped off, Cookie and Giordani must solve nine leads (hence the film’s title) in order to unmask the killer. But their nosing around turns personal for Cookie, when the killer kidnaps his young niece.
While not one of Argento’s personal favourites, there’s much to enjoy thanks to Arrow’s new HD transfer. Retro fans will swoon over the production design (the marble hall of the lab and the rooftop bar are big highlights, and Franciscus’ wardrobe is so cool); while the colour and lighting is trademark Argento, all deep rich tones – like a chiaroscuro painting brought to life. Meanwhile, Ennio Morricone supplies another superb score, this time featuring a catchy discordant melody.
The story is classic murder mystery – but with a modern (read 1970s) twist. Instead of the beautiful blonde being fought over (although there is a beauty present in the shapely form of French star Catherine Spaak), it’s a male gigolo who takes centre stage when one of the doctors becomes a suspect. And it’s this gay storyline as much as the violence (the strangulation scene is particularly nasty) that originally got 20-minutes cut from earlier versions of the film. But here it is uncut and ready for a new audience, and you really don’t have to be dedicated to Argento to love this Cat.
NOTE: If you want to hear the English audio, select it first as the release defaults to the original Italian audio. Also, don’t watch the special features until you have seen the movie, as they give away the surprise ending (actually so does the cover art, but its still the coolest scene of the movie).