So, Arrow Video revisit another earlier Dario Argento release (following in the footsteps of TENEBRAE, DEEP RED, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and PHENOMENA) ...
In this 1971 film, which followed closely on the heels of Argento's wildly successful debut BIRD, the giallo template is continued - in what would become known as the second of the director's fabled "animal trilogy" (concluded a couple of years later by FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET).
Blind crossword writer Franco (Karl Malden) is unwinding in his German apartment one evening when he overhears a blackmail-related conversation outside. When he opens his window to better hear what's being said, only the viewer is privy to what happens next: the security guard of the nearby scientific institute being bopped over the head by a mysterious figure who proceeds to break in to the building, which is controversial for its involvement in genetic experimentation.
The following morning, Franco bumps into journalist Carlo (James Franciscus) while strolling outside the institute. Carlos is there to report on the break-in, which resulted in the murder of the institute's head. What was the motive for the break-in, what was stolen and how will this piece of information solve the crime's puzzle? Ah well, this is what he seeks to resolve.
A friendship develops between Franco - an inadvertent witness with a penchant of his own for solving puzzles - and Carlos, the journalist who reports on the crime place him under direct threat from the mystery assailant.
You don't need to know any more of the plot. Suffice it to say, THE CAT O'NINE TAILS is a convoluted thriller filled with ropy peripheral performances, masterful camerawork (the director's trademark killer POV shots are in full evidence, as are his familiar close-ups on dilating pupils) and moments of unexpectedly brutal violence.
The screenplay, co-written by Dardano Sacchetti, Luigi Collo and Argento, is tight and proficient; Ennio Morricone's freestyling score sets a bar which Goblin would not only step up to but raise in DEEP RED.
Okay, this lacks the highpoint set-pieces of BIRD or horror-esque gore of DEEP RED, but there's still a beguiling plot at its heart and - if anything - CAT is a film which improves with age. It's slower and less showy than most Argento flicks, definitely, but when it gets it right (the early break-in sequence; a show-stopping train station assassination which relies on some sterling editing; the memorable finale) it's great.
Malden and Franciscus make for appealing protagonists too. Able support comes from Catherine Spaak as Carlo's love interest and Cinzia De Carolis as Franco's attentive young niece.
Arrow Video have re-released THE CAT O'NINE TAILS in a dual format blu-ray and DVD combo pack, the former of which benefits from a new 4K transfer. We were sent a copy of the DVD for review purposes.
Newly remastered and restored, the film looks great here - even in standard definition. Pin-sharp and clean, while retaining a true feel of filmic depth and texture, this new transfer offers a rather beautiful rendition of the film. Colours, blacks, definition - everything is spot on. Obviously, the original 2.35:1 ratio is adhered to, and enhanced for 16x9 televisions.
Audio is provided here in options of English and Italian mono. Both are clean, consistent propositions. English subtitles are available for the hard-of-hearing; these are well-written and easily readable at all times.
Arrow Video's DVD opens to an animated main menu page. From there, a static scene selection menu allows access to the film via 12 chapters.
Extras begin with an excellent audio commentary track from critics and authors Kim Newman and Alan Jones. Jones, as ever, is encyclopaedic in his knowledge of the production, while Newman is true to form and builds a wealth of context around the film's contents: the history of blind detectives in modern culture; Argento's nods to THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, TWISTED NERVE etc. As affable as all of their previous chat tracks, it's an endlessly entertaining and fascinating, flab-free listen. From the off, we're learning about how the film was rushed into production to cash in on the success of THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, why the film was set in Germany, and the fact that most of it was actually shot in Turin. Imbued with healthy doses of agreeable humour, I heartily recommend this companion piece.
"Nine Lives" is a newly recorded 16-minute interview with Argento. He confesses to not liking the film too much on account of its American influence (something Jones covers more thoroughly in the aforementioned commentary track), as well as discussing locations and his casting choices.
"The Writer O' Many Tales" boasts a brilliantly bad title, I know, but is a highly worthy supplement in the form of a new 35-minute chat with Sacchetti. "I've always been crazy about films" he gushes as he talks about how he got the gig working on CAT, his first movie, and going on to collaborate with the likes of Lucio Fulci. Sacchetti has a good memory for details and a warm, welcoming presence. Keenly edited with lots of attractive clips and stills interspersed between the interview footage, this is an excellent featurette.
De Carolis looks great in another 2017 interview, this one existing under the title "Child Star". Over the course of 11 enjoyable minutes, she talks of her experiences in early films, her subsequent successful career as a dubbing artist and her general dislike of the horror genre. And, yes, her role in CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE is mentioned ...
How about a new interview with production manager Angelo Iacano? Yep, that's here too: "Giallo in Turin" affords the enthusiastic chap 15 minutes of most welcome screen time. Describing his friendship with Argento during the several films they collaborated together on as "wonderful", this is an involving and sincere look back on the two-month shoot in Turin.
The film originally had a different, more American-style ending. Argento changed this upon the advice of friend and fellow filmmaker Luigi Cozzi. Although the footage filmed is now considered forever lost, a 3-minute featurette translates the original screenplay pages into English for the first time while proffering a generous set of stills and much-appreciated snippets of Morricone's lovely score.
Finally, we're treated to three original theatrical trailers: the Italian, International and US domestic variants.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Arrow Video|