THE CAT O’ NINE TAILS (1971) Reviews and overview


‘It’s nine times more suspenseful’

The Cat o’ Nine Tails is a 1971 Italian/French/German giallo thriller film written and directed by Dario Argento, adapted from a story by Dardano Sacchetti, Luigi Cozzi, and an uncredited Bryan Edgar Wallace. It stars Karl Malden, James Franciscus, and Catherine Spaak.

Although it is the middle entry in Argento’s so-called “Animal Trilogy” (along with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Four Flies on Grey Velvet), the titular “cat o’ nine tails” does not directly refer to a literal cat, nor to a literal multi-tailed whip; rather, it refers to the number of leads that the protagonists follow in the attempt to solve a murder.

Though successful in Europe, it was poorly received in the United States. Argento admitted in the book Broken Mirrors, Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento that he was less than pleased with the film, and has repeatedly cited it as his least favourite of all of his films.

Franco Arnò (Karl Malden), a middle-aged blind man, is out at night walking with his niece Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) when he overhears a man in a parked car mention blackmail. After Franco and Lori return home, the man in the car gets out and breaks into a large medical complex, the Terzi Institute. The following day, the police and reporter Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) investigate the break-in, Carlo introducing himself to Franco during a run-in.

Meanwhile, Dr Calabresi (Carlo Alighiero) looks at his files in his office and phones someone and agrees to meet with him. Calabresi tells his fiancee Bianca Merusi (Rada Rassimov) that he knows who broke into the institute and what was taken, but does not wish to tell anyone yet, saying it could mean a “big step forward”.

At a train station, while a group of reporters are waiting for a celebrity to arrive by train, the man approaches Calabresi and pushes him onto the tracks. Lori reads the newspaper for Franco about Calabresi’s “accidental death,” describing the picture and telling him that Giordani wrote the article.

The two of them go to see the reporter at his office and ask if the picture has been cropped. Carlo calls Righetto (Vittorio Congia), the paparazzi photographer who snapped the picture. Righetto goes back to the original and sees a moving hand-arm in the far left of the frame. As he prepares to print the photograph, he is strangled to death with a cord…

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