In a new interview included on this superb Arrow Video release, director Dario Argento notes he initially didn’t much like his second film, The Cat O’Nine Tails partially because it felt “Too American” Interesting, but in a way, I’d say he’s correct to a degree. That said, as a followup to The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, the film pushes some of the right buttons it needs to while providing a pretty impressive murder by onrushing train scene early on that’s still pretty awesome even when you find out how the trick was done.
That “Too American” comment is very likely about the two Americans playing key roles in this film, James Franciscus and Karl Malden. Both give solid performances in film that’s a bit slower in pacing than Bird was, but has a few tense moments that liven things up. Malden plays Franco Arnò, a blind former journalist who lives with his young niece, Lori (Cinzia De Carolis). The pair are out for a nighttime stroll when Franco overhears a bit of a conversation from a parked car they’ve passed. It later turns out a nearby genetics lab has been broken into and onto the scene the next day arrives Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus), a reporter who ends up bonding with Franco. The two men set out to solve the case, but yep, there’s a murderer on the loose connected to the theft and he’s got his sights set on not only the two men, but little Lori as well.
While the film is tamer than the rest of Argento’s horror output, if you go in with no expectations of decapitations across the nation and all sorts of sexual deviance left and right found in so many other gialli, this is a pretty decent viewing experience, languid pacing and all. For the record, I personally don’t approach the genre with an eye strictly towards the vile content like some fans do. I just like crazy detective stories with crazier situations. I slid-tripped into giallo from a film noir obsession, so I tend to see the value in both when a movie is well made, so it’s been an interesting ride through a few Italian films as well as a few modern gialli that look to the classics of the genre for inspiration.
Anyway, Malden and Francisus work extremely well together as their dynamic duo go through the motions to another great Ennio Morricone score backing the action. You know poor Lori will get snatched at some point, so that figures in to the plot. But Franco is not your normal blind guy stumbling into stuff. He’s seemingly a bit clairvoyant, carries a sword cane and knows how to use it and it seems his other senses are pretty darn acute. Hell, it’s he who gets the killer his just desserts at the film’s close while poor Carlo almost ends up worm food. I actually wondered at some point if Malden’s agent called him up at some point asking if he wanted to do those American Express TV spots based on this role, and Karl accepting but wisely deciding not to play the part as Franco. Which, by the way, would have been pretty damn funny if he was a playing a blind man in those ads telling TV audiences of the time “You are about to witness a crime…”. Hey, it made me laugh when I thought of it.
As expected, the transfer is solid (I haven’t seen Arrow’s previous 2011 version, so I can’t and won’t compare the two), the extras are great, but my review disc had an issue with accessing the new interview with Cinzia De Carolis, booting back to the interview with the film’s production manager. Boo, but I guess I’ll need to grab the retail disc at some point to see that feature. I’d call this underrated by today’s standards, but it works for me just fine. Hmm. I should end this review with a proper (and properly terrible) joke, I think. Too Americans walk into a bar… (CLANG! Ouch!). Er, thank you, thank you, ladies and germs… I’ll be here all week. Don’t forget to tip your server – they work hard here.
Score: B+ (85%)