The Cat O' Nine Tails (Dario Argento / Italy-France-West Germany, 1971):
(Il Gatto a Nove Code; Die Neunschwänzige Katze)

The burglarized yet seemingly intact institute is the key factor, for Dario Argento now has to take apart the reality he established in Bird With the Crystal Plumage -- a matter of rogue chromosomes, or of "induced fantasies," rather. The sightless ex-journalist (Karl Malden) overhears conspiring voices in the night, which become images in his mind as he works on a puzzle; Argento cuts to a POV tracking shot across the street, where the crime is committed to the bewilderment of the crew of researchers. The same maneuver is repeated at the train station, with a subjective camera panning left and right suggesting a jumpy killer timing a rendezvous to the arrival of a train: The scientist (Carlo Alighiero) is pushed under the wheels, paparazzi switch from documenting a murder to capturing a starlet's vanity and, in the process, questioning viewer enjoyment of expertly-shot bloodshed ("Smile. Smile, a man's dead"). Karl's adopted niece (Cinzia De Carolis) lends her uncorrupted gaze to his sleuthing hunches, a reporter (James Franciscus) joins the investigation. Suspects include the institute owner's daughter (Catherine Spaak), who zips through Rome like Annie Hall, and the lab whiz (Aldo Reggiani) fascinated with the mechanics of the violent psyche. Several of the filmmaker's fans (and Argento himself) see this as "pedestrian" when the truth is that the spiky synergy of word and image (the headline "Murder weapon: A razor?" flashed over a barber sharpening his blade) recalls Hitchcock's experiments in Murder! Editing shows the mind's eye at work, close-ups display a rather Leonesque force (two glasses of milk suspended for the lens, Malden sans shades on the roof), and then there are the deaths -- Vittorio Congia in his green-lit studio, Rada Rassimov in her chamber of a hundred golden splatters, the dive down the elevator's elongated shaft. An uncanny anagram, like the pyramidal chemical charts on the wall of Reggiani's office, from an artist fixated on the Xs and Ys of a brutal world. With Pier Paolo Capponi, Horst Frank, and Ugo Fangareggi.

--- Fernando F. Croce

Back to Reviews
Back Home