Dario Argento’s second film, following his impressive debut with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, is the somewhat formulaic Cat O’ Nine Tails, a film that Argento himself does not really care for. Argento claims in an interview included on this release that the film is “… too much like an American film” and it is very easy to see where he is coming from. Few elements in the film bring to mind Argento’s unique style and more often than not the film makes one think of generic hard boiled American 70s cop films rather than 70s Gialli. It is not entirely flawed though and there is still a lot to appreciate and enjoy across the film’s almost two hour runtime.
Cat O’ Nine Tails stars the veteran American actor Karl Malden as a blind former journalist and James Franciscus as a younger journalist. Together the two become embroiled in a mystery involving murder and espionage that really is quite horribly convoluted and unnecessarily complicated considering the somewhat lacklustre finale that wraps up the narrative. Argento’s love of Hitchcock is very present in Cat O’ Nine Tails and in the mystery/thriller plotting one is reminded where Argento’s strengths too often lie, not in the narrative.
Effective Hitchcockian suspense scenes dominate the film though and these are some of the film’s greatest moments, a scene with contaminated milk, a barber’s close shave and a car chase provide the most thrilling situations. The car chase in particular is nail biting but its reliance on action is something that feels almost out of place in an Argento film, perhaps hinting at that feeling of it being an “American film” that Argento referred to.
Not the weakest Argento by any stretch, there have been some real stinkers in recent years, Cat O’ Nine Tails is still something of a disappointing second film from Argento. Commercial pressures seemed to overwhelm his stylistic flair and the plotting really is overwhelmingly dull but if you’re willing to forgive the flaws and abandon investing too much in the story, there is a lot of enjoyment and visceral pleasures to be found in this sophomore effort.
Reviewing the recent run of Argento releases from Arrow Video has been a trying experience filled with disappointments (and admittedly the occasional pleasant surprise). Too often these releases have been plagued with lousy DNR, colour issues, edge enhancement and an odd blurring that seems to run across all Arrow’s (and Shameless’) Blu-ray releases. The HD ‘restorations’ have been so hit and miss on these Argento releases that buyer confidence must be pretty low at the moment.
Cat O’ Nine Tails sadly suffers from a few of the aforementioned issues but for the most part it is thankfully okay, with a reasonably consistent layer of grain and apart from some slightly off looking colours the film looks to be in pretty good shape throughout. Certainly not the best the film could look (I’ve yet to check out the US Blue Underground release – they have a far better track record) but Cat O’ Nine Tails represents the better end of the recent UK Argento Blu-rays from Arrow.
The extras are a collection of interviews culled from the large archive that Arrow seem to be drawing on for all their releases. These are visually poor but reasonably interesting and informative. Argento is particularly candid in his interview segment and it’s an extra that is well worth checking out.
A full list of the special features can be found below,
Dario Argento Remembers The Cat O’ Nine Tails
The Cat O’ Nine Tails In Reflection – an interview with long-time Argento collaborator Luigi Cozzi
Sergio Martino: The Art And Arteries of the Giallo
Four sleeve art options with original and newly commissioned artwork
Two-sided fold out poster
Exclusive collectors’ booklet featuring brand new writing by Alan Jones, author of “Profondo Argento”