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May 21, 2011

Movie Review: The Cat O' Nine Tails (1971, Blu-ray)

It really isn't a secret that the folks at Blue Underground have recognized the importance of Dario Argento to genre. Presenting his films on Blu-ray in the highest quality has been an area of success for them with releases of Deep Red, The Bird with Crystal Plumage, The Stendhal Syndrome. Can they keep it up? Now, Blue Underground has released the second feature in Argento's "Animal" series, Cat O' Nine Tails (Il gatto a nove code) on Blu-ray.

Buy The Cat O' Nine Tails [Blu-ray] or DVD

Pepper-nosed American Express card pitchman, Karl Malden stars as Franco Arno, a blind former news reporter who becomes intertwined in a crime case that happens outside his apartment. Arno hasn't been blind all his life and he actually has impeccable hearing that allows him to make up for his handicap. When he needs a little visual assistance his adorable niece, Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) lends her youthful 20/20 eyeballs to "Cookie's" crime-solving. Cookie is a name she calls her Uncle Arno. I told you she was adorable.

Arno joins forces with a young, well-tanned reporter named Carlo Giordani ( James Franciscus, Beneath the Planet of the Apes). What starts as a simple assault in front of Arno's apartment becomes a series of murders. Any time someone gets close to solving the mystery they're offed fairly quickly.

Lori and her relationship with her uncle are a unexpectedly sweet touch to the film. Malden is very believable with his affection towards Lori. This helps the thrilling finale be all the more effective. Kudos to Dardano Sacchetti, Luigi Collo and Argento for adding this element to the narrative. Lori even has her own theme music!!

One of the bigger surprises in Cat O' Nine Tails is a wild car chase that takes place in the streets of Rome. It wasn't quite Bullitt or Smokey in the Bandit but for a Giallo film to have an action sequence that's executed so well is an eye-opening sight to say the least.

As with the recently released Blu-ray of Deep Red from Blue Underground there is a noticeable improvement on the picture and audio of the feature. I pulled out the Anchor Bay release from several years ago - which at the time was fine transfer - and noticed a few scratches and less detail in the color. “Cat” the Blu-ray ,however, is pretty stunning. I’d put it on par with their excellent new transfer of Deep Red. It still manages to look like film, so don’t expect waxy faces and loss of natural film grain caused by digital noise reduction. If you’re a genre fan and still holding out on getting a Blu-ray player, I urge you to take the plunge as more and more of these kinds of films continue to get this kind of attention.
The extras are identical to the initial Anchor Bay release but with a cooler menu screen. Those were quality extras, so it’s good to have them back if you haven’t enjoyed them on the DVD. Karl Malden and James Franciscus recorded some radio interviews around the time of production. Malden appears incredibly impressed with this talented young man (at the time) named Argento and refers to it as an "old-fashioned murder mystery". Also included on the disc is an interview with Argento and writer, Dardano Sacchetti. Sacchetti gives some insight into how the story came about and the influence of the magazine, Scientific American. We also hear some bits about the origins of the Giallo in print from Argento. Giallo books we’re very popular in the early 1930’s around Italy.

Cat O’ Nine Tails is really a very sharp thriller and embodies some interesting touches that I found very cool without going completely away from what Argento does well – scaring the shit out of the audience.

(The lovely screencaps for Cat O' Nine Tails come courtesy of

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