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Cat O' Nine Tails, The

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    Ian Jane
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  • Cat O' Nine Tails, The



    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: January 30th, 2018.
    Director: Dario Argento
    Cast: Karl Malden, James Franciscus , Pier Paolo Capponi, Horst Frank, Catharine Spaak
    Year: 1971
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    The Movie:

    Dario Argento's 1971 thriller, The Cat O' Nine Tails, follows a blind man named Franco Arno (Karl Malden) who lives a quiet life with his young niece and who pays his bills and puts food on the table by writing crossword puzzles - an odd career choice for a blind man to be sure, but hey, this is an Argento movie, let's not quibble on a small detail like that. Regardless, Franco's life changes forever when, one night while out for a stroll, he hears some men talking in a car parked out front of a research hospital. The next day he learns that that someone broke into that very same hospital and murdered a guard.

    Seeming to know more about the cast than anyone else around thanks to his careful listening skills, Franco winds up teaming up with an overzealous reporter named Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) to try and figure out who the killer is and what his/her motive might be - the only problem? Well, they haven't caught the murderer yet and so evidently the killings are going to continue. Thankfully, our sleuths have found a series of nine clues that will bring them through a series of bizarre set pieces to finally figure out whodunit and why.

    While few would argue that this is one of Argento's best films, it's still a pretty solid thriller with many of the director's trademarks all over it. Stylish murders? An infatuation with architecture and weird buildings? A great score? All of that is here and then some, as Argento, still perfecting his craft at this point early in his career, pulls us into the mystery and keeps us guessing. The camerawork in the picture, while not as deliriously gorgeous as Deep Red or Suspiria, is consistently impressive and slicker than grease. The score, courtesy of the one and only Ennio Morricone, hits all the right notes at all that right times (Argento had yet to switch over to prog rock/Goblin style scores and Morricone's string heavy work here is quite different than the music hear in the films Argento would make later in his career). There are some slow spots, yes, and there are some logic gaps as well, but that underlying sense of sexual tensions that has made so many of Argento's films so psychologically bizarre is starting to bloom here, while his obvious love of Hitchcock shines through throughout the picture.

    Karl Malden and James Franciscus make for an interesting pair of amateur detectives. They don't quite have the chemistry you might want them to but they work well enough in their respective roles that they do fine with the material. Malden in particular is surprisingly convincing as a blind man and shows a certain warmth of character that serves him well. He's likeable. This, the second part of the so called 'Animal Trilogy,' isn't as good as the other two parts (they being The Bird With The Crystal Plumage and Four Flies On Grey Velvet) but it's still prime Argento and a mandatory watch for anyone with an interest in his filmography or in Giallos in general.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The Cat O' Nine Tails arrives on Blu-ray from Arrow Video on a 50GB disc (the feature takes up 33GBs of space) in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition widescreen transfer, presented in the film's original aspect ratio of 2.35.1. Taken from a new 4k restoration of the original negative, detail here is very strong. Black levels are deep, there are no compression issues and the image is free or any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement problems. The picture shows a nice, natural amount of film grain but outside of that, it's pretty much spotless, there's no print damage to complain about at all.

    But then there's the color timing.

    The film was previously released on Blu-ray by Blue Underground back in 2011 (reviewed here). As to how the two transfers compare? Screen caps from the new Arrow release are up top, caps from the Blue Underground directly beneath.












    Clearly there's some big differences between the two discs. The Blue Underground is considerably brighter by comparison though detail is noticeably stronger on the Arrow disc. The Arrow transfer is also considerably more film-like, with the BU disc now looking a little more digitally processed. Despite the fact that the Arrow is definitely darker, it maintains good shadow detail (in cap #13 Malden's shadow is still easy to spot on the wall behind him) and is free of obvious crush.

    Italian and English audio options are offered in DTS-HD Mono. Subtitles are provided for both the English and Italian language tracks. No noticeable issues with either mix, both sound quite good. Balance is fine, there are no noticeable issues with any hiss or distortion and Morricone's score has nice depth and strength behind it.

    Extras for this release start off with a new audio commentary featuring Alan Jones and Kim Newman. During the intro Newman notes that he's really only there to prop up Jones' knowledge, as he did write a book on the man (Profondo Argento: The Man, The Myths & The Magic) but honestly, Newman has just as much to contribute here as his counterpart. They talk about how the film steals the title from an Ellery Queen novel but is in fact an original story, the intricacies of the plot and the way that the details are revealed, the effectiveness of the subjective camerawork employed in the film and how it makes the audience culpable of the murders that take place on screen. They of course talk up the credits of the different cast members featured in the picture, including how and why Karl Malden of all people is in the movie, influences that have worked their way into this picture such as Twisted Nerve, and the importance of the cinematography in the film. It's a really well put together track, even if these guys go off topic now and then they're just really fun to listen to as they're enthusiastic, well informed, energetic and they've got a good sense of humor too. There's a bit of reverb on the track but that's a nit-pick, not a deal breaker.

    The featurettes start off with a new interviews with co-writer/director Dario Argento recorded in 2017 running sixteen minutes. Here Argento talks about following up the success of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage with another thriller and how he collaborated with Dardano Sacchetti and Luigi Collo on the story. He also talks about shooting on location in Turin, the difficulties of filming in a cemetery at night when everyone is running around playing pranks on one another, his involvement directing the different cast members in the picture and his thoughts on their performances and how some of the more complicated set pieces in the film was constructed.

    Up next, co-writer Dardano Sacchetti appears in The Writer O' Many Tales, also exclusive to this release and clocking in at just under thirty-five minutes. He talks about how this was the first story he ever did, the simplicity of the story, being exposed to films all his life starting at a young age, and how he met Argento for the first time and how they wound up working together. He also talks about his time in the left wing political scene of mid-sixties Italy, his attraction to creative chaos, and then the specifics of writing The Cat O' Nine Tails - including the influence a certain issue of Scientific American had on the story! He also tells some interesting stories about dealing with Salvatore Argento, collaborating with Maria Bava on Bay Of Blood, getting involved with Dino De Laurentiis and quite a bit more.

    Actress Cinzia De Carolis shows up in Child Star that runs eleven minutes in length. She talks about making the film at a young age, how acting as a kid was a lot of fun and like a game to her, and her experiences interacting with some of the bigger stars whose path she crossed over the years. She also talks about her experiences on The Cat O' Nine Tails, how she doesn't remember how she got the part in the first place but that she has positive memories of making it and was quite fond of Dario and Salvatore Argento as well as her co-stars including Karl Malden. She also talks about her career after she made this picture, where she collaborated with the likes of Gianni Garko and John Saxon among others. Note that there's an authoring disc on the test disc sent for review where, if you select this featurette off of the main menu, the Sacchetti interview plays in its place.

    From there we spend fifteen minutes with production manager Angelo Iacono in Giallo In Turin, a fourth exclusive interview made for this disc. He talks about meeting Argento for the first time by way of a mutual friend, how they hit it off immediately and what it was like collaborating with him for the better part of sixteen years of seven films. He then talks about how this one was one of the first films to be shot in Turin, what he did as a production manager, working with producer Salvatore Argento, his experiences with some of the actors in the film, and his experiences working on a few later films with Argento as their careers went on.

    Also found on the disc are script pages for the lost original ending, translated into English for the first time. We won't spoil the details here but this three minute piece discusses what was shot based on the original ending and why it was changed. We then get a series of stills form the movie that play out with text from the original ending underneath explaining what happened in this version. A German lobby card featuring a still shot from this lost footage is also included here.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are original Italian and international theatrical trailers, menus and chapter selection. Although this review is based off of a test disc that did not include retail packaging, finished product is said to include reversible sleeve art, a double-sided fold-out poster, four lobby card reproductions and a limited edition booklet illustrated by Matt Griffin containing essays on the film by Dario Argento, Barry Forshaw, Troy Howarth and Howard Hughes.

    The Final Word:

    The Cat O' Nina Tails isn't Argento's best film but it's still a very good one and an interesting precursor of things to come later in his career. It's slick, stylish and suspenseful with some good performances and stand out murder set pieces. Arrow's Blu-ray rolls out the red carpet for the film, presenting it in excellent shape and with an equally excellent selection of supplemental material.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!






























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