The Cat O’ Nine Tails / Il gatto a nove code (Dario Argento, 1970)

Terrified woman and a ferocious cat in CAT O' NINE TAILS

The Cat o’ Nine Tails / Il gatto a nove code / Die neunschwänzige Katze / Le Chat à neuf queues / (1970)
Running time: 112 mins.
Directed by: Dario Argento. Produced by: Salvatore Argento, Manfred Barthel.
Cast: James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak, Pier Paolo Capponi, Horst Frank, Rada Rassimov, Cinzia De Carolis, Werner Pochath.

THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS is one of the best films from the golden age of the Italian giallo cinema. Conceived and shot right after THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, the film is less straightforward than its predecessor while further perfecting suspense and violent scenes. Dario Argento’s drive to deliver the ultimate thriller is in full evidence here.

The Plot: A series of violent murders occurs in Turin following a break-in at the Terzi genetics institute. Reporter Giordani joins forces with blind former newspaperman Franco Arno in search for clues. They have nine leads to help them unmask the killer before it’s too late.

THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS shows Dario Argento on top form, eager to entertain and backed by a substantial budget to realise his vision.

The Screenplay

Industrial espionage may not be the most exciting of film topics but the film is still a lot of fun thanks to Argento’s incredible sense of style. THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS boasts arguably the tightest plot of all Argento’s thrillers, with a well-disguised the culprit and some exciting twists along the way. What’s more, the killer actually has a strong motive this time around! It’s worth noting that the writers have plundered several crime classics for raw material, most notably, Raymond Chandler’s THE BIG SLEEP.

The Cast

James Franciscus (KILLER FISH) and Karl Malden have good chemistry and make for the most likeable team of amateur sleuths in Argento’s filmography. Pier Paolo Capponi (THE BOSS) and Cinzia de Carolis excel in bringing their characters to life, as does the rest of the ensemble cast. Italian film lovers will spot a host of familiar faces in supporting roles. Both English and Italian voice dubs are very decent, as well.

The Music

The soundtrack to THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS is up there with Ennio Morricone’s finest work. The Maestro shows a hell of a range here, going from lyrical to jazzy to jarringly experimental with phenomenal ease. That trumpet solo at the St. Peter’s club is amazing!

The Murders

The murder set-pieces in THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS are not very graphic by today’s standards, with the focus more on mystery and suspense than on overt bloodletting. Nevertheless Dario Argento serves up some creative kills which are filmed with panache and, most importantly, well integrated into the overall story.

Dario Argento’s THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS is a top specimen of the Italian thriller. The underrated film is well-plotted, has a strong cast, an atmospheric score and amazing widescreen cinematography.

Reviewed in May 2020 by Alex Bakshaev