Film Reviews

The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971) – 4K UHD Blu-ray Review

The Cat O’ Nine Tails, the second film from acclaimed Italian director Dario Argento, gets a beautiful 4K Blu-ray release from Arrow Video – but how does the director’s early work hold up?

The story follows a series of murders that surround the Terzi Institute – a medical facility where staff are researching into genetics – following a break-in where it appears nothing has been stolen. Before the break-in occurs we meet Franco Arno (Karl Malden), a blind former reporter, and his adopted daughter Lori (Cinzia de Carolis) as they walk to their home near the institute. Overhearing someone inside a car talking about blackmail, Arno gets his daughter to have a look, but she can only make out one of the men sitting inside.

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Shortly after the break-in at the Institute, one of the scientists working there, Dr. Calabresi (Carlo Alighiero), falls in front of a train and is killed. Luckily, some photographers were on the scene waiting for the arrival of a celebrity, and managed to snap some pictures of the event. When it appears in the paper, Lori tells Arno that it’s the man she saw in the car. Arno takes this information to reporter Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus), and through some quick investigating they discover that a hand can be seen on the un-cropped photograph, pushing Calabresi onto the tracks. Convinced that there’s a murderer on the loose the two men begin to work the case; but pretty soon more bodies start to pile up, and even Giordani and Arno become targets.

Despite Argento having helmed a hit with his first film, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, his second film was considered something of a flop when it first came out, with The Cat O’ Nine Tails receiving few official releases over the years. This new high definition release not only marks the best way to watch the film, but also gives viewers the opportunity to reevaluate their feelings on it. It has acquired something of a better reputation now, possibly in response to Argento’s more recent flops.

That being said, you can tell that this is one of his early works, as a lot of the features that would become iconic parts of his later films – such as extreme stylisation, and the supernatural –  are pretty much nonexistent here. There are a few moments across the film that feel very Argento, such as the insertion of extreme close-ups of the killer’s eye whenever they’re around, but for the most part it does feel like this is a movie that could have been directed by anyone. In a lot of ways it is a very ordinary, very middle of the road murder mystery story.

The films title refers to the number of suspects and lines of enquiry that the two investigators have to go through over the course of the film, and whilst for the most part the story is interesting enough it does tend to drag a little in places, possibly because there are one or two too many plots and characters thrown into the piece. The fun set pieces and interesting character moments feel somewhat lost within all of the excess at times, and perhaps if Argento had trimmed some of this down the film would have felt a little punchier, and would have maintained my interest.

Whilst the film is okay in itself it’s through the extra features that I found the most enjoyment. As with other Arrow releases for Italian cinema, the disc makes sure to include a lot of information and context for the movie. There are a number of interviews with cast and crew for the film, including Argento himself, as well as a brand new commentary track by film critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman, both of whom shed a lot of insight into both the making of the movie, and the broader context of Italian cinema and Argento’s work. Perhaps most interestingly, especially for long time Argento fans, is the lost alternate ending. Presented in English for the first time, these now missing scenes are presented in their original script form, revealing how the film was first intended to end before Argento made changes.

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Arrow have released some terrific entries from Italian cinema over recent years, and The Cat O’ Nine Tails is a great addition to this range. It might not be the most exciting for casual viewers, but thanks to the engaging and informative extras, and a beautiful new 4K presentation, it’s an absolute must for any fans of the genre and Argento himself.

The Cat O’ Nine Tails is out on Limited Edition 4K UHD Blu-ray on 23rd August from Arrow Video.

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