The Cat o' Nine Tails
the cat o' nine tails | the cat o nine tails | il gatto a nove code | dario argento | james franciscus | karl malden | catherine spaak | mystery | thriller | italy | france | west germany | giallo | murder | death | Ennio Morricone | pier paolo capponi | horst frank
Film: The Cat o’ Nine Tails (Il gatto a nove code)
Director: Dario Argento
Writer: Dario Argento
Starring: James Franciscus, Karl Malden and Catherine Spaak
This film is one that I saw pretty early on into seeking out the filmography of co-writer/director Dario Argento. I wasn’t as well versed in giallo films at the time so I thought it was okay. For my second viewing, it was in the theater actually when the Gateway Film Center did an Argento month. Being much more versed in giallo films now, I’m giving it a third viewing as part of my odyssey through the ones. The synopsis here is a newspaper reporter and a retired, blind journalist try to solve a series of killings connected to a pharmaceutical company’s experimental, top-secret research projects and in so doing, become targets of the killer.
We start here with a blind man of Franco Arnò (Karl Malden) walking with his niece of Lori (Cinzia De Carolis). We learn later on that he has no other family and is a retired journalist who is now blind due to an accident. Lori’s parents have passed away. Franco passes a car and goes to tie his shoe. While he does, he asks Lori to get a look at the man in the car they previously passed. Franco overheard a conversation between the two in the car. She can see the driver, but not the passenger.
We then get a point of view shot of the person from the car. They break into what we learn to be an institute where they studying genetics and perform surgeries that are experimental. We see whoever it is knock out the guard on duty and use a screwdriver to jimmy open a door. The person then goes in to where there are files. Someone trying to enter discovers the knocked out security guard and an alert is triggered.
The police are called in and Police Supt. Spini (Pier Paolo Capponi) is in charge. Arriving to report on this is a journal of Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus). Upon his arrival he bumps into Franco. This is an interesting look to see that Carlo is a bit brash, but immediately apologizes.
Carlo goes inside and we get to the meet the people who work here. The man who founded and runs the hospital is Prof. Fulvio Terzi (Tino Carraro). With him is his daughter of Anna (Catherine Spaak). There is also Dr. Braun (Horst Frank), Dr. Casoni (Aldo Reggiani), Dr. Esson (Tom Felleghy) and Dr. Mobelli (Emilo Marchesini). They all meet together to see if they can figure out what the purpose of the break-in was. Dr. Casoni throws out that there could be corporate espionage, but he is shot down, stating that is not possible.
Dr. Calabresi (Carlo Alighiero) was one of the men from the car. He looks at the files and knows what was stolen. He contacts someone in the meeting and reveals that he knows the truth. He sets up a time to meet with them. At the designated location, we get another POV shot. Whoever this person is, they push Dr. Calabresi onto the train tracks to cover the crime they committed. As this happens, there are paparazzi there to photograph a famous woman on the train arriving. One of them happened to snap a picture when the crime happened. This photographer is Righetto (Vittorio Congia).
The story is run that it is an accident. When Franco is brought the paper by Lori she notices the man in the car from the night before. Franco then reaches out to Carlo. He wants him to look at the full picture that was cropped for the paper and this leads them to Rigehetto. The killer also knows this. Whoever they are, they are tying up loose ends. The problem is the more they kill, the more people that notice the pattern, making this web even more entangled.
Where I want to start is that this movie really has grown on me. This is a review that I’m updating now after my third viewing and it was interesting to see what my initial thoughts were. What I really like here is that our main characters aren’t police officers. We have a journalist with Carlo and a blind reporter of Franco. The police aren’t bumbling here either. They are connecting similar dots and even believe once evidence is turned over to them. Like many, Franco is putting his life, Carlo’s and even Lori’s in danger by treating this like one of his world puzzles. When they do turn information over, the cops help tighten up who the suspects are.
Going from there, I do know the first time I saw this; I didn’t necessarily care for the story. The second time I didn’t remember who the killer was, but the overall product worked better for me as I said. It was after this viewing I really appreciate what this movie is doing. Franco overhears this conversation and the whole movie is the hidden passenger trying to ensure they aren’t discovered. They then have to kill Righetto who took a picture of them. Then it has to be Bianca Merusi (Rada Rassimov) for a note they found. It all makes sense. There is also another aspect here that adds another element for me.
Before I get into what I was alluding to, I will say that Argento isn’t afraid to take on science that might not be able to be proven at this time. There is this idea that gets explained in the movie by Dr. Casoni that an extra Y chromosome could explain violent individuals. There is a study he is referencing that shows many murders have the XYY genetic make-up. This comes into play with the killer here and I like it how it all works out in the end.
I do feel that I should delve into the mystery of the movie quickly. For me, if a giallo is one where I predict the killer early on, then I’m not always the biggest fan. The first time I saw this, I had no idea and I liked that it kept me guessing. The second time I had forgotten, but knew where we were going. For this time here, I did know who the killer was and I was able to piece things together and it helped me to enjoy this even more.
I feel that is enough for the story, so I’ll go next to the acting. Franciscus has a good look as our lead. He’s quite confident in himself and it comes off a bit like he’s a jerk. We see this with interactions with Anna. He does have a good heart despite some things that he does. Malden is great though as Franco. He is fun, even though the stakes he’s playing with are high. Spaak is attractive and we do see her topless. Her character is strong-willed which I did like. From there, I would say that the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
Then next should be the effects and the cinematography. For this one, we don’t get a lot o the former. What we do get looks pretty realistic. I can always commend Argento for that. The blood we get looks good as well. What really is masterfully done was the cinematography. We get flashes a lot to the eye of the killer. That is a bit of a trademark there. There is some POV shots as well that will become more famous for the slasher films that will come in the next decade. Aside from that, the transitions work in an interesting way. Argento just has a way to construct a mystery like this that works.
The last thing I’ll go into would be the soundtrack. We aren’t getting a classic one here with Ennio Morricone or Goblin, but I still think this one works. It really has a lot of jazz vibes to it, which fits the era and these types of movies. It isn’t iconic as some movies, but I still think this one works for what was needed.
In conclusion here, this one just keeps growing on me with every viewing. I think that Argento constructs an interesting giallo film here. The two reporters piece together this mystery where a killer keeps making it harder and harder at each turn. The scientific aspect plays into it with an interesting angle. Acting fits for what was needed. I think it shot beautifully and the effects work. The soundtrack also works right along with it. Overall, this isn’t in my top 5 of his filmography, which another well made giallo from a master filmmaker. I would say this is a good movie in my opinion and if you like this sub-genre or director, give this one a viewing.
My Rating: 8 out of 10