Movie Reviews 227 – Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971)

The Cat O Nine TailsDario Argento practically created the Italian Giallo thriller film movie genre single handedly with his first film The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and this his second feature, Cat O’ Nine Tails, uses all the contrivances that define ‘Giallo’. A murder mystery in which the audience experiences part of the film through the eyes of the murderer’s leather gloved perspective,  an accidental witness that becomes entangled in the solving of the crime, one or more Hollywood borderline B-rated actors, all presented in a cut-rate Italo-Euro production. That’s Giallo!

In this case the Hollywood imports recruited were James Franciscus and Karl Malden. Malden having just completed Patton and would go on to fame and acclaim the following year with the television cop drama The Streets of San Francisco while Franciscus had just recently gained star billing in Beneath the Planet of the Apes the year before.

Blind retired newspaper reporter Franco Arnò (Malden) is walking along the streets one night with the little niece under his custody. As they walk beside a parked car, Franco’s sensitized hearing pickups up an odd conversation from the car’s occupants. He stops slightly ahead of the car and asks his granddaughter to get a closer look at the car.

The next day Franco learns of a break-in a the nearby medical complex and joins the throng of curious onlookers in front of the complex. As the police begin their investigation he makes the acquaintance of Carlo Giodano (Franciscus) who is a reporter. When he gets back home his niece tells him that the front page of the news paper has a picture of the man that was in the car the night before. Franco then joins Carlo to put all their pieces together to find out exactly what is going in since the break-in curiously enough did not result in any theft.

This slowly developing puzzle which is concentrated on the many doctors and administrators of the medical complex slowly starts to untangle, but as it does so, personnel start dying at an alarming rate. There is the enigmatic complex owner who wishes to quash any investigation. His strikingly beautiful daughter who soon joins Carlo and Franco. And the many doctors and researchers, some involved in the plot and others innocently dragged in.

But what exactly is the mystery? That, my friends is the Cat O’ Nine Tails of the title. It has nothing to to do with a multi-tip whip per se, but a reference to the nine leads the reporter duo have and that need to be sorted out in order to answer all their questions, and get to the bottom of the murders.

While the characters aren’t very deep, there are nice touches like the fact that by day the blind Franco works on putting together newspaper crossword puzzles. Not solving them, but creating them with a blind-friendly alphabetic tile contraption.

There is very little sleuthing and while the ending isn’t very satisfying, it’s the trip their that’s part of the fun. Enjoy the stylized garish 70’s furniture, the incessant smoking and the mandatory car chase with sub-compact cars as you enjoy this vestige of a bygone era in cinema.



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