Cast & Crew
Franco Arno is a blind man that lives with his young niece and makes a living writing crossword puzzles. One night, while walking on the street, he overhears a weird conversation between two man sitting in a car parked in front of a medical institute where genetic experiments are performed. The same night someone breaks in the institute and kills a guard. Arno decides to investigate with the help of reporter Carlo Giordani.
Pier Paolo Capponi
The Cat O' Nine Tails
The success of that film gave Argento a higher-caliber cast here with two American stars and a full stable of notable character actors from Italy and Germany. Chief among them is Oscar winner Karl Malden as Franco Arno, a blind, retired newspaper reporter and guardian of his young niece, Lori (Cinzia De Carolis). While out strolling one night, they both overhear a conversation that sounds an awful lot like a blackmail inside a parked car. A few hours later, the prestigious Terzi Institute, a genetic research facility, is infiltrated by an intruder for reasons not immediately made clear. Arno starts snooping around and teams up with a younger reporter, Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus), to unravel a web that soon includes several brutal murders involving strangulation, stabbing, and even a commuter train.
In retrospect, The Cat o' Nine Tails (released at the tail end of 1970) came to be classified as the middle entry in Argento's so-called "Animal Trilogy," thrillers united by the animals in their titles and circuitous plots embedded with many eccentric characters and elaborate killings. (The third film, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, arrived in 1971.) This particular film distinguishes itself by splitting hero duties between two men, and the chemistry between Malden and Franciscus gives it an accessibility and a sense of warmth that contrasts well with the often pessimistic nature of the story itself. All of the suspects these men encounter, including seasoned French-born actress Catherine Spaak as the daughter of the institute's chief in command, are deeply damaged and dysfunctional , with an actual chromosomal abnormality potentially lurking behind the motivation of the actual killer.
Also in keeping with the Animal Trilogy is the humorous but cockeyed attitude to human sexuality, with all-American golden boy Franciscus (fresh off of a one-year stint working on The Valley of Gwangi, Marooned and Beneath the Planet of the Apes) making an ideal confused everyman stumbling through a gallery of eccentrics. As with the other two Argento films bookending this one, there's an unexpected set piece involving matter-of-fact gay characters who confound the straitlaced hero, this time a tortured love triangle between three gay men first unveiled at a velvet-shrouded bar unlike any other in cinema history. By the time Argento returned to the giallo after a brief hiatus with Deep Red in 1975, the approach had shifted significantly with the leading man, David Hemmings, not even batting an eyelash upon discovering his best friend's sexual orientation.
One other common trait among the three animal films is the score by the legendary Ennio Morricone, who provides one of his sweetest lullaby themes ("Ninna Nanna in Blu") amidst a cacophony of discordant suspense music. The juxtaposition of lovely pop music with nerve-jangling experimental jazz was a common approach he took to his giallo scores, repeated again in Lucio Fulci's A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Short Night of Glass Dolls, (1971) and perhaps most effectively, Autopsy (1975). By the end of the decade Morricone would move to Hollywood productions, where he remained a regular fixture into the 1990s.
The film's supporting cast was largely unfamiliar to most English-speaking viewers, but fans of Eurocult cinema have grown to know and love many of them. Particularly notable is Rada Rassimov as the ill-fated Bianca Merusi; she had already appeared as Maria in Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and would turn up in Mario Bava's Baron Blood in 1972. Eventually she went on to enjoy a long career in Italian television. As Superintendent Spini, seasoned actor Pier Paolo Capponi had turned up in Philippe de Broca's King of Hearts (1966) and starred in numerous other thrillers including Fernando Di Leo's Naked Violence (1969) and Luciano Ercoli's Forbidden Photos of a Lady above Suspicion (1970).
Among the German cast, the most familiar for many was blond, intimidating Horst Frank as Dr. Braun, who alternated between German TV work and Italian genre fare like The Dead Are Alive (1972) and Django, Prepare a Coffin (1968). Not to be overlooked is his early starring role in The Head (1959), still one of the strangest entries in German horror cinema. In the role of perverse object of affection Manuel, Werner Pochath is now most infamous for his leading role in the shocking Mosquito (1977), with his other Italian work including such films as Terror Express and The Shark Hunter (both 1979). Interestingly, before making Cat he slated to be cast opposite Pierre Clementi in Federico Fellini's Satyricon, but both roles wound up going to American actors instead. In his personal correspondence to filmmaker Curtis Harrington, Pochath said he enjoyed working on Argento's film, particularly working with "the great Karl Malden."
The Cat o' Nine Tails was released uncut with a GP rating (a more adult precursor to PG) by National General Pictures, with posters and trailers touting it as being "nine times more suspenseful" than The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Most American critics and audiences disagreed, but the film performed well in Europe and Asia and proved to be another solid hit for Argento. Some confusion has since arisen about the film's enigmatic ending, which finds a supposedly dead character suddenly proven alive with a single, off-screen word of dialogue. Presumably this was meant to alleviate what would have otherwise been an incredibly harsh, downbeat resolution with the viewer left staring down literally into an abyss. Circulating photographs indicate an additional, happy coda with Franciscus and Spaak was also shot (a la the filmed but discarded "justice prevails" alternate ending for Vertigo, 1958), while the American tie-in novelization contains a third, simpler resolution.
After its original American run, this film proved to be extremely difficult for English-speaking viewers to see after its initial release with only a drastically-shortened TV print circulated by Warner Bros. popping up on occasion well into the 1980s. Die-hard Argento fans at the time were forced to seek out a pricey English-language laserdisc from Japan, which proved to be the only viable option until the film was picked up for DVD and subsequently Blu-ray distribution by Anchor Bay and then Blue Underground. Argento himself has dismissed the film on occasion in interviews, but public opinion has since grown far more positive as devotees of European horror and suspense have come to appreciate its unpredictable storytelling, bloody bravura, and endearing detective heroes, still one of the most well-acted and fascinating crime-fighting duos in the Italian thriller canon.
By Nathaniel Thompson
The Cat O' Nine Tails
Do you know how many people are together right now making love this very second?- Carlo Giordani
No.- Anna Terzi
780 on the average. Really.- Carlo Giordani
I don't know if you're aware of it or not, but that was an invitation.- Carlo Giordani
Released in United States 1971
Released in United States 1971