Il gatto a nove code (The Cat O' Nine Tails) is written and directed by Dario Argento. It stars Karl Malden, James Franciscus, Catherine Spaak, Horst Frank, Aldo Reggiani, Carlo Alighiero and Rada Rassimov. Music is by Ennio Morricone and cinematography by Erico Menczer.
Blind puzzle solver Franco Arno (Malden) and newspaper man Carlo Giordani (Franciscus) team up to see if they can solve the mystery of the murders that are terrifying the city. With their own lives becoming increasingly in danger, and the lines of investigation splintered all over the place, the men are drawn to the mysterious Terzi Institute where geneticists are tampering with gene patterns
Argento doesn't like it and the fans are very much divided about the worth of it on the Argento curriculum vitae, yet The Cat O' Nine Tails is a delightfully entertaining oddity.
The plot is labyrinthine with relish on top, spinning the viewers into the same convoluted investigative maze that Messrs Arno and Giordani find themselves in. In fact, it's near genius that it rarely makes sense under inspection, yet still there's a fascinating edge to the story, with its characterisations, sexual kinks and cruel murders, there's a power to the piece that rewards if you can just run with it, buy into Argento's Giallo singed world.
With Malden turning in a great performance and Franciscus performing to a level nobody thought was in him, the lead characters really come to life. Add to that Morricone's creepy jazzy-garde fuelled score underlining the skew-whiff nature of the beast, and Menczer's photography tonally muted, tech credits are at one with the themes ticking away in the narrative, a narrative that has observation, ironically, on vision, sight and minds eye. While there's a couple of rug-pulls jostling for our attention just to keep things twisty.
Then there is the director himself. The Cat O' Nine Tails finds him restrained compared to the excess of style over substance films that would dominate his oeuvre post release of The Cat. That's not to say there isn't style here, there's plenty as Argento dallies in POV, iris vision, and a nifty trick that gives the blind Arno "sight", further ensuring that the supposed handicapped character is the key player and potential saviour of all. A number of scenes are bursting at the seams with suspense, with a cemetery/mausoleum sequence top draw, for sure Argento is firmly getting in his stride here.
It's not a gore movie, something which I personally think has led to some of Argento's fans giving the film the cold shoulder, but it's the tale (or tails of course) and characterisations that hold it up as being under valued. It's a Giallo whodunit flecked with sexual stings and no little amount style draped all over it. 7/10