Starring: Karl Malden, James Franciscus, and Catherine Spaak
Director: Dario Argento
Rating: Six of Ten Stars
A blind maker of crossword puzzles (Malden) overhears a suspicous conversation while walking home one night--and when the conversation appears to have been a precursor to murder, he teams with a young reporter (Franciscus) to uncover the truth.
"The Cat 'o Nine Tails" is perhaps the most underrated film that Dario Argento ever made, including by Dario Argento.
This isn't surprising since the film is short on many of Argento's trademark elements, such as characters seemingly forgetting facts they discovered two scenes earlier, the gore is limited as most of the onscreen deaths are strangulations and there are very little examples of sadistic and spectacular murders of women. Heck, the film is even a little more coherent than most of Argento's film. However, the film is still an Argento film, so that means a lack of focus in the story and that most of the characters are severely underdeveloped--in fact, the only character with any depth at all in this film is Karl Malden's blind puzzle-maker. The combination of missing elements that Argento fans look for and the presense of the things that most Argento fans hate about his films results in a movie that no one thinks is worthwhile.
And that is a shame, because the film is actually an above-average example of a1970s Italian murder mystery film. Compared to "Torso" or "The Case of the Bloody Iris", "5 Dolls for an August Moon" or other famous "giallo" pictures, it;'s a spectacular movie. It's plot is far more engaging, the characters and the actors portraying them are far more engaging, and the story, while unfocused and implausable, engages the viewers from the get-go and ever lets up until the very end. It is also peppered with visual flourishes that combine with a growing nightmare-like sense of dread and inevitable doom that will have you believing that the absolutely worst outcome imaginable is where things are heading.
"The Cat o' Nine Tails" is a stylish mystery film that has received a bad rap due to who directed it and what the expectations are from one of his movies. It's not perfect, but no matter what Argento might say in interviews, or what you might hear from fans and critics, it's a far sight better than the vast majority of the crap he has foisted upon movie-goers over the years.