The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - THE CAT O' NINE TAILS (1971) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - THE CAT O' NINE TAILS (1971)

A blind man, his young niece and a reporter team up to solve a criminal conspiracy.

Review by Jason Abbey

Directed by: Dario Argento

Starring: James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Cinzia De Carolis, Catherine Spaak, Pier Paolo Capponi, Horst Frank

THE CAT O' NINE TAILS arrow video blu-ray

Like a band following up a huge hit, Dario Argento’s second film plays like a reprisal of an earlier work, with slicker production and more investment but lacking the raw energy of the original. What it does allow you is an Oscar winner in the form of Karl Malden as blind avuncular cruciverbalist Franco, who with his young niece Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) witnesses an attempted blackmail (Malden being a cinematic blind man thus having both superhero level auditory skills and a nifty switchblade cane, making him a proto Daredevil).

Piecing this together with a break in at a pharmaceutical company, Franco teams up with reporter Carlo (James Fransciscus) to solve the crime, an event that escalates into a series of baroque murders that may put them all in danger.


Argento has always had a perfunctory approach to plotting, fundamentally a visual storyteller whose flights of fancy paper over occasionally creaky source material. Fine when dealing with fairy tale horror, slightly more noticeable however in the Giallo genre in which all the sleuthing has to have some sort of payoff. Here any attempt to make sense of the story pays no real dividends; any one could be the killer and the reasoning behind the murders is spurious for an episode of Scooby Doo let alone Argento. Disparaged by the director himself, who felt forced to repeat himself with insufficient prep time, it is also strangely wonderful.

In Malden he has an actor of real heft - not a phoned in performance with a Mediterranean holiday at the end of it, this is a genuine charmer of a turn. There is a mischievous Mercurial side to Franco and warmth that works wonderfully with Lori. What could have been a creepy duo or a cheesy double act with a sassy young sleuth is actually the emotional core of the movie. Argento doesn’t often do empathy; his leads are normally chancers or bastards on the make. Here there is a sense of jeopardy because we care about the characters.


As Malden is no one’s idea of a romantic lead, balsa wood based Franciscus gets top billing. Malden gets the acting, while Franciscus gets the fucking and punching, which he does with equal dead faced enthusiasm and vigor.

For Argento, the colour scheme is slightly dour. That and the profusion of brown gives it the majesty of a Watford based '70s TV crime show. What it does have is some key Dario set pieces - a train station murder being a highlight - and some wince inducing bits of business involving an elevator cable.


For all the meticulous precision of his Giallo thrillers, there is still room for some pleasing oddities such as extreme close ups of breast-like poisonous milk cartons; a couple of pensioners nearly comically run over during a car chase; and the unfeasible costume choices of love interest and potential killer Anna Terzi (Catherine Spaak). Add to that one of the most miserable looking gay bars in cinema history and you have an interestingly flawed work that in its 4K restoration is a significant step up in quality from Arrow's previous release.

Available in Italian and English audio with newly translated subtitles for the Italian track and for the deaf and hard of hearing. The highlight of this package is the new audio commentary from the Hinge and Bracket of horror criticism, Kim Newman and Alan Jones. It’s a fun lively listen and their love of Italian and horror cinema shines through. Conversational more than academic, but full of fascinating snippets of information.

There are also new interviews with co-writer/director Argento, co-writer Dardano Sacchetti, actress De Carolis and production manager Angelo Iacono.

There is also an attempt to restore the original ending using script pages and stills not featured in the original film. Add to the mix a bag of trailers, a fold out poster and a limited edition booklet illustrated by Matt Griffin, featuring an essay on the film by Argento, and new writing by Barry Forshaw, Troy Howarth and Howard Hughes.

About as comprehensive as you could desire from a film of this vintage.

The Cat o' Nine Tails is on blu-ray now from Arrow Video.