Release Date(s)1971 (August 14, 2021)
Studio(s)Labrador Films/National Generic Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B+
After the success of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage outside of Italy, distributors were eager to cash in on Dario Argento’s success and quickly financed his next film. Finished at breakneck speed, The Cat O’Nine Tails (aka Il gatto a nove code) was also successful upon its initial theatrical release, but was a disappointment to Argento personally as he felt it wasn’t up to his standards. Though it’s considered by many to be one of his least efforts during his initial run throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, it still features fine performances from all involved, including unusual genre appearances by Karl Malden and James Franciscus as the two leads. Because the film was filmed so quickly, it’s likely that Argento wasn’t able to take his time with it, both in the writing and filming stages. As such, the film’s flavor doesn’t quite jibe with his later work, particularly when it comes to the level of violence. It’s not bereft of it by any means, but it’s not nearly as biting and seems a little messier by comparison. And while the reveal of the killer is not all that interesting, The Cat O’Nine Tails certainly has merit, watered down or otherwise.
A series of murders begin taking place, all revolving around a break-in at a local medical institute. One of the staff, believing to know who the burglar is, attempts to blackmail them, but later winds up dead. Local reporter Carlo (Franciscus) starts covering the story and turns to blind ex-reporter Franco (Malden) for assistance. Franco, who lives with his young niece Lori (Cinzia De Carolis), believes he can help despite his obvious handicap. They investigate various suspects, including Dr. Casoni (Aldo Regianni), Dr. Terzi (Tino Carraro), and Terzi’s daughter Anna (Catherine Spaak), among others. While questioning Anna, Carlo becomes romantically involved with her and she tells him that the clinic is working on a new theory that individuals with certain chromosome patterns may have criminal tendencies. Further inquiry leads Carlo, Franco, and Lori into danger as they get closer to the truth, but who the killer is and why eludes them to the very end.
The Cat O’Nine Tails was shot by Enrico Menczer on 35 mm photochemical film and framed at 2.35:1 for its theatrical release. Arrow Video has undertaken a new 4K restoration of the original 2-perf Techniscope camera negative, presenting it here with a new color grade for HDR (Dolby Vision and HDR10 options are available). It should be noted that is the original 112-minute version of the film, not the 92-minute US re-edit. As was the case with Arrow’s previous UHD release of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Cat O’Nine Tails on Ultra HD is a stunner. It’s a beautifully crisp and clean presentation with tightly-encoded grain and an enormous level of fine detail. Arrow released the film on Blu-ray in 2017, and this presentation sails far beyond it in terms of resolution and depth. The new color grade widens the gamut tremendously, allowing for richer shades of red, green, and blue, while also soaking in detail from the shadows with deeper and more natural blacks. Skin tones are a little warmer, but look more accurate than their cooler counterparts. It’s a lush presentation from top to bottom, with nary a speck of dirt or damage to be seen, easily the finest visual representation of this film on home video. Note that both the English and Italian versions are included, and can be selected in the main menu. The opening and closing credits will reflect this, as will certain insert shots of newspapers and notes (though not all—some remain in either English or Italian regardless of which version is chosen).
The audio is included in English and Italian mono LPCM, with optional subtitles in English SDH. Both tracks represent the film well, with flat but healthy soundtracks featuring clear dialogue exchanges, strong though dated sound effects, and plenty of muscle for Ennio Morricone’s jazz-infused score. Hiss is slightly more apparent and the quality of the dubbing is a little less obvious on the Italian track, though both tracks are otherwise satisfactory.
The following extras are also included:
- Audio Commentary with Alan Jones and Kim Newman
- Nine Lives (HD – 15:57)
- The Writer O’ Many Tales (HD – 34:46)
- Child Star (HD – 11:02)
- Giallo in Turin (HD – 15:11)
- Original Ending (HD – 3:09)
- Italian Trailer (Upscaled HD – 1:46)
- International Trailer (HD – 1:52)
- US Trailer (HD – 1:39)
- Posters Image Gallery (HD – 14 in all)
- Italian Lobby Cards Image Gallery (HD – 4 in all)
- German Promotional Materials Image Gallery (HD – 26 in all)
- US Promotional Materials Image Gallery (HD – 11 in all)
- US Pressbook Image Gallery (HD – 13 in all)
- Soundtracks Image Gallery (HD – 7 in all)
In the excellent and informative audio commentary with authors and critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman, they discuss the success of The Bird with Crystal Plumage outside of Italy, the film’s Krimi influences, blind detectives, pseudo-science in gialli films, the fate of Labrador Films, the cast, the murder sequences, Argento’s favorite scene, the film’s AA certificate in England, filming in Turin, the costumes, the writing of the film, homicidal maniac controversies in film, various allusions and connections to other films, comparisons to Argento’s other films, the title, movie novelizations, the use of violence, filmmaker egos, Argento’s dislike of the film, the finale, and the original ending. Nine Lives (erroneously listed on the menu as Nine Tails) interviews Dario Argento himself. He discusses what an enjoyable experience it was to make the film and why it was a disappointment to him. In The Writer O’ Many Tails, screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti delves into his introduction to cinema at an early age, eventually working with Argento, and other projects he’s been associated with. In Child Star, actress Cinzia de Carolis briefly talks about her short career. Giallo in Turin speaks to production manager Angelo Iacono about his collaborations with Argento. In the Original Ending featurette, we’re informed that an additional ending was shot, but was cut at the last minute by Argento as it was deemed “too American.” We’re told that the footage is now lost, but using stills from the final film and the script pages, it has been recreated to give us an idea of what it might have been, also utilizing a still from a German lobby card which is one of the only surviving images of that ending. The rest of the extras included three trailers and six still galleries containing a total of 75 images.
Also included is a 60-page insert booklet with cast and crew information, Murder in the Dark: Mystery and Madness in The Cat O’Nine Tails by Dario Argento, Putting the Audience Through It by Barry Forshaw, Wipe That Expression of Sympathy from Your Face: Learning to Love The Cat O’Nine Tails by Troy Howarth, Grace Notes: The Voice and Music of Edda Dell’Orso by Howard Hughes, and restoration information. The disc sits inside a black amaray case with reversible artwork featuring new art by Obviously Creative on one side and the original Italian poster on the reverse. Tucked away inside are six lobby card recreations—four Italian and two German—and a double-sided poster featuring the same artworks. Everything is housed within a rigid slipcase featuring the same new artwork.
Previous DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film from all over the world feature a multitude of additional extras not found here on Arrow’s UHD release. They include radio interviews with Karl Malden and James Franciscus; a part of TV and radio spots; additional interviews with Argento, Luigi Cozzi, and Sergio Martino; the German Super 8 version of the film in two parts; the alternate US and extended German versions of the film; and a couple of extra featurettes. For fans, owning those discs, including the Anchor Bay and Blue Underground discs, should be a priority in order to hang on to everything.
Dario Argento’s The Cat O’Nine Tails is one of those films that takes a couple of viewings to appreciate. It’s not one of his full-blown masterpieces like Deep Red or The Bird with The Crystal Plumage, but it has plenty to appreciate. And Arrow Video’s new UHD release continues to help set the standard for how all 4K releases should look and sound. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons