THE CAT O'NINE TAILS (1970) Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Director: Dario Argento
Arrow Video USA

Arrow Video's new 4K-remastered Blu-ray of Dario Argento's THE CAT O'NINE TAILS provides the opportunity to assess his rushed follow-up to THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE.

Walking home with his niece Lori (Cinzia de Carolis, NIGHT OF THE DEVILS) one evening, blind crossword puzzle designer Franco Arno (THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO's Karl Malden) overhears a conversation in a parked car with the veiled threat of blackmail. When Lori recognizes one of the men in the car on the front page of the newspaper as Dr. Calabresi (Carlo Alighiero, THE STRANGE VICE OF SIGNORA WARDH) who was run over by a train, Arno takes his suspicions to reporter Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus, NIGHTKILL) about a link between the apparent accident and a break-in at the Terzi Institute where the man worked. Giordani is skeptical until his photographer friend (Vittorio Congia, MESSALINA) is murdered after discovering evidence of foul play in his photograph of Calabresi's death and Calabresi's mistress (Rada Rassimov, BARON BLOOD) is murdered after phoning Arno and telling him that she has discovered the killer's identity. With the Terzi Institute carrying out top secret, high profile genetic research on the link between the XXY chromosome and criminality, Giordani suspects that industrial espionage is the game. As Giordani looks into the staff of the institute – Professor Terzi (Tino Carraro, WEREWOLF WOMAN), fey Dr. Braun (Horst Frank, THE HEAD), young prodigy Dr. Casoni (Aldo Reggiani, THE SUNDAY WOMAN), stodgy but lustful Dr. Esson (Tom Felleghy, ALMOST HUMAN), and Dr. Mambelli (Emilio Marchesini, COMMANDOS) – he becomes romantically entangled with Terzi's enigmatic daughter Anna (Catherine Spaak, THE LIBERTINE) who exhibits some quirks of her own. Although Giordani and Arno are at a loss to find any concrete connection between nine different hypothetical leads ("like a cat with nine tails"), the killer soon lets them know that they are next on his hit list.

Mounted quickly in light of the international, particularly American (but not domestic) success of THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, THE CAT O'NINE TAILS has not been well-regarded by Argento himself and its longtime availability to English-speaking audiences as a panned-and-scanned tape of a brutally cut TV version – more accessible than the letterboxed Japanese laserdisc alternative – did not help impressions of the film over the years. Although the film plays like a hodgepodge of THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE and TWISTED NERVE – as noted in the extras – with Argento aping Hitchcock's black comedy and his own BIRD stylistics, THE CAT O'NINE TAILS is perhaps more of a transitional giallo work between his debut and DEEP RED than FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET with characters who are relatively flat but still recognizably human in their characterizations and interactions. Malden, Franciscus, and Carolis make an engaging trio, with the warm relationship between Arno and Lori contrasted with the "unnatural" one between Terzi and his adopted daughter (with "wooden" Spaak appropriately icy and numb). The plotting, on the other hand, withholds too much information to such an extent that a subplot thread seems far more incidental than it really is, and the killer's identity seems almost picked at random. Commentators Alan Jones and Kim Newman suggest that the film actually plays better with the viewer's knowledge of the killer's identity, which is perhaps echoed in the instances of flash-forward quick cutting that are more suggestive of recollection than second sight. Enrico Menczer's Cromoscope (the name given to 2-perf Techniscope productions not processed by Technicolor) photography is less flashy than that of Vittorio Storaro on BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE or Luigi Kuveiller on DEEP RED – not to mention Luciano Tovoli on SUSPIRIA – but it does exhibit some of Argento's technological experimentation with scientific lenses for the extreme eye close-ups of the killer and compositions which occasionally emphasize the periphery (not unlike the photograph of Calebresi's death, the uncropped negative of which reveals a clue). Ennio Morricone provides a lyrical main theme while the bulk of the film relies on the usual dissonant, jazzy experimentation (apart from the main theme, the score is definitely the least memorable of his five Argento efforts). Although the German title translates as THE NINE-TAILED CAT, the Italian/French/German co-production was, of course, marketed as a Bryan Edgar Wallace adaptation in that country.

Released theatrically by National General Pictures, THE CAT O'NINE TAILS was hard to see intact visually and in terms of content with a panned-and-scanned TV print utilized for Bingo Video's late 1980s VHS release. Fullscreen versions popped up on budget DVD in the early 2000's in spite of Anchor Bay's then definitive 2001 anamorphic widescreen DVD which included a featurette with Argento, Morricone, and screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti (MANHATTAN BABY) as well as vintage radio interviews with Malden and Franciscus. Blue Underground ported the release over in its entirety in 2007 before issuing the film on Blu-ray in 2011. That master looked good for the time despite the presence of scanner noise (its presence exacerbated on Arrow's 2013 UK Blu-ray release by a lower bitrate). Arrow's 4K-mastered 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1, on the other hand, looks both darker and warmer, making the earlier DVD and Blu-ray transfers look over-bright. Blacks are bottomless here and reds are bolder, and skintones look less sickly in some cases while Franciscus looks less "orange" here (which seemed to wash out his complexion beneath his blond hair which may have contributed to the impression of blandness on his part). The English and Italian LPCM 1.0 tracks are very clean with Morricone's score piercing the ear at times, and the choice of audio language selects English or Italian title sequences through seamless branching. Optional English subtitles for the Italian track and English SDH subtitles for the English track are provided.

Arrow have dumped the extras from their previous Blu-ray – among them interviews with Argento, Luigi Cozzi (STARCRASH), and Sergio Martino (TORSO) – in favor of a host of new ones starting with an audio commentary by Alan Jones and Kim Newman who had previously contributed tracks to Arrow's Blu-rays of TENEBRAE (their original and remastered versions) and the Blue Underground and original Arrow issues of BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. They cover all the bases from its place in Argento's "animal trilogy" and its giallo-krimi crossover status. Jones also sheds light on the film's French and American co-production sides, with distributor National General Pictures having partially funded the film in hopes of propping up their failing company after the success of BIRD. Newman gives literary and filmic context to the "blind detective" character while also noting that Franciscus had played a blind insurance investigator in the series LONGSTREET while Carolis had played Helen Keller on Italian television. They also discuss the film's debts to THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE and TWISTED NERVE, and how the project morphed from a "murderous ape" story developed with Sacchetti inspired by Desmond Morris' "The Naked Ape" when Argento heard a news story about the XXY chromosome, as well as Sacchetti feeling that he was not properly credited on the film.

Argento appears in a new interview "Nine Lives" (15:52) in which he expresses his feelings on the film's "stereotypical American elements" (although he appreciates that the film has its fans) and discusses his working relationships with Malden, Franciscus, Spaak, and Carolis. He also reveals that he wanted Storaro for the film but he had signed on to work on a film with Bernardo Bertolucci, and he regards the photography of Menczer as inferior. In "Writer O' Many Tales" (34:39), Sacchetti recalls liking THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and how he first met Argento, the development of the ape story and then CAT O'NINE TAILS as well as his disagreements with Argento and his producer father Salvatore. He also recalls how he came to the notice of Dino De Laurentiis and how that lead to him scripting Mario Bava's A BAY OF BLOOD.

In "Giallo in Turin" (15:08), production manager Angelo Iacono (INFERNO) recalls his warm friendship with Argento that lead to seven collaborations. Of CAT, he recalls scouting locations in Turin, smoothing things over with the cast and Argento (particularly in the case of Franciscus who arrives with his family and was apprehensive about working on the film). He also discusses shooting the car chase sequence and some of his other works. An interview with Carolis is featured on the menu and the disc specs but an authoring error has made it inaccessible; as such, Arrow has delayed the street date to reauthor the discs. The original scripted ending (3:03) is presented here as a series of translated script pages and photographs – one that shows the fate of Franciscus after the climax had appeared in German still sets and may or may not be just a publicity photo and never filmed – revealing yet another of the aspects that Argento may have regarded as "too Hollywood." The disc also includes the film's Italian trailer (1:45), the international trailer (1:54), and the U.S. theatrical trailer (1:39) – the latter cropped to 1.78:1 – while the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Candice Tripp, double-sided fold-out poster, lobby card reproductions, and a limited edition booklet illustrated by Matt Griffin, featuring an essay on the film by Dario Argento, and new writing by Barry Forshaw, Troy Howarth and Howard Hughes have not been supplied for review. (Eric Cotenas)