Blu-ray Review: Cat O’ Nine Tails (Limited Edition)

When Dario Argento released Bird With the Crystal Plumage, he caused a massive genre explosion in Italy. Giallo became the hot buzzword for exploitation theater owners across the world. The Spaghetti Western was dying and the industry needed the next big craze to score easy sale at Cannes. Producers quickly altered their existing film titles to work in an animal name. Other directors quickly adapted Giallo novels or made their murders flicks focus on mystery hand stabbing away on victims until the big reveal. Argento quickly got back in the hacking game and made Cat O’ Nine Tails with a bigger budget and a few big Hollywood names.

During a walk around the neighborhood, the blind crossword puzzle creator Franco “Cookie” Arnò (A Street Car Named Desire‘s Karl Malden) and his young ward Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) hear a conversation in a parked car with the topic of blackmail. Franco listens, but isn’t sure what too do. Later the guy in the car sneaks inside a building and steals the files of a rather secretive company that’s focused on genetics testing. The next day the police arrive to investigate with reporter Carlo Giordani (Beneath the Planet of the Apes‘ James Franciscus) tagging along. The company doesn’t want too much investigating. Indeed it seems the case will be closed internally when a major scientist gets on the phone and sets up a meeting with the thief. He goes down to the train station and suddenly catches a ride. The reports have it written up as an accident, but Franco senses there’s more. He goes to the paper to meet with Carlo to reveal what he heard and his hunches. Turns out the photo of the incident is cropped and the photographer sees the hand of the killer. But before he can print it up, he’s choked to death. It’s up the reporter and the puzzle maker to solve the crime.

Cat O’ Nine Tails isn’t quite as powerful as Bird With the Crystal Plumage.There’s a lot of weird and odd scenes that confuse as much as a red herring. The American dub of the film has Franco somehow in charge of Lori as an adoptive parent. The original Italian supposedly identifiers her as his granddaughter. This makes a little more sense in their relationship. There’s an attempted murder that involves two cartoons of milk that have been poisoned. That part isn’t bad, but the fact that the character finds the milk at his doorstep and leaves them on a table while making love to a guest makes it strange. And who offers milk to their bedroom guest?

Even with the odd points, Argento does a fine job cranking up the tension in scenes when it matters most. Ennio Morricone score builds the suspense with the cinematography of Enrico Menczer (Machine Gun McCain). There’s plenty of fear for Franco when Lori goes missing. Karl Malden was about to start making The Streets of San Francisco and elements of Lt. Mike Stone are in Franco as he pokes around clues. The killings are properly gruesome so you won’t be bored. Cat O’ Nine Tails remains of the better efforts in the Giallo genre even if it didn’t top Bird.

Arrow’s previous limited edition of Bird With the Crystal Plumage appears to have already sold out so don’t delay if you want this.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The transfer brings out the creepiness of the locations at night. It was produced from the original camera negative so details come out sharp. The audio is LCPM mono for both the Italian and English dubs. Seeing how the big stars are English and most of the cast European, there’s no true “original language” track. So pick the language you know best and watch. The subtitles are in English.

DVD of the Blu-ray content.

Audio Commentary by critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman gives a bit of history and discusses elements of the film.

Nine Lives (15:57) interviews co-writer/director Dario Argento about working after the success of Bird with the Crystal Plumage. He does confuse the relationship even more by saying Cookie was Lori’s uncle. What were they?

The Writer O’ Many Tales (34:46) chats with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti. This was his first script. He got into going into films with a pal. He recounts his first meeting with Argento before they worked together.

Child Star lets us see how actress Cinzia De Carolis has grown. She talks about her time with Karl Malden. Did he give her American Express Travelers Checks?

Giallo in Turin (15:11) catches up with production manager Angelo Iacono, He recounts how he and Argento felt like old friends when they first met. They duo made 7 films. The city of Turin wasn’t used as a film location until Cat O’ Nine Tails.

Script pages for the lost original ending (3:09) gives a sense how Dario wanted the film to wrap up. The original footage is lost except for a photo. The theatrical ending is better.

Original trailers for Italian (1:48) international theatrical (1:54) and US (1:39) markets promote Dario Argento as the Italian Hitchcock. They use high contrast optical effects on clips to keep thinks even more mysterious.

Double-sided fold-out poster

4 lobby card reproductions from the original release.

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.

Arrow Video presents Cat O’ Nine Tails: Limited Edition. Directed by: Dario Argento. Written by: Dario Argento. Starring: James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak. Running time: 112 minutes. Rated: Unrated. Blu-ray Release: January 30, 2018

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