The Cat O’ Nine Tails

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Synopsis

Following the success of his debut feature, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, distributor Titanus tasked writer/director Dario Argento with delivering a follow-up in short order. The resulting film, granted a greatly enhanced budget and heralded in its US marketing campaign as “nine times more suspenseful” than its predecessor, was The Cat O’ Nine Tails.

When a break-in occurs at a secretive genetics institute, blind puzzle-maker Franco Arnò (Karl Malden, Patton, One-Eyed Jacks), who overheard an attempt to blackmail one of the institute’s scientists shortly before the robbery, teams up with intrepid reporter Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus, Beneath the Planet of the Apes) to crack the case. But before long the bodies begin to pile up and the two amateur sleuths find their own lives imperiled in their search for the truth. And worse still, Lori (Cinzia De Carolis, Cannibal Apocalypse), Franco’s young niece, may also be in killer’s sights…

This second entry in the so-called “Animal Trilogy” found Argento further refining his distinctive style and cementing his reputation as the master of the giallo thriller. Co-starring Catherine Spaak (Il Sorpasso) and Rada Rassimov (Baron Blood), and featuring another nerve-jangling score by the great Ennio Morricone (The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly), The Cat O’ Nine Tails remains one of Argento’s most suspenseful and underrated films. 

Picture 9/10

Arrow Video upgrades their previous Blu-ray edition for Dario Argento’s The Cat O’ Nine Tails to 4K UHD, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on a triple-layer UHD disc in 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition with Dolby Vision. As with the previous Blu-ray, the presentation is sourced from a 4K restoration performed by L’Immagine Ritrovata, scanned from a 2-perf Technicolor negative. Arrow does not include any 1080p presentation.

As with Arrow’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage this upgrade delivers an impressive looking 4K upgrade over what was already an impressive HD presentation on the Blu-ray. As with the Blu-ray, the presentation is clean and film-like, rendering grain well and delivering some impressive details despite the 2-perf source. The increased resolution does offer a somewhat sharper presentation, though the upgrade is admittedly negligible: grain is rendered a little bit cleaner and some elements involving smoke look better, but it's hard to say there is much of an upgrade in detail levels overall.

Where the upgrade is easily noticeable is in the use of Dolby Vision and the improved contrast and black levels. It’s not a colourful film, taking place in dark settings and shadows most of the time, but the colours we do get, primarily blues and greens with some pops of red, look good. The colours do lean warmer, but not overly so. Black levels are much richer with a far wider range than what the Blu-ray offered, allowing for more distinguishable details in the shadows. Some scenes can come off a bit murkier and darker in comparison to the Blu-ray’s (sequences in Karl Malden’s apartment and on the cemetery later on), but you can still see everything and has more of a natural look, crushing also never being an issue. You also get some nice-looking highlights that are kept to a modest level, and bright light sources in dark settings look terrific, the light blending wonderfully into the shadows. All of this manages to lend the presentation even more of a photographic look compared to the Blu-ray.

Again, as with the Blu-ray, the presentation is sharp and clean, but the 4K/HDR upgrade gives the film a more distinctive look, the darker scenes coming out quite a bit cleaner and sharper.

Audio 6/10

Arrow yet again includes two DTS-HD MA 1.0 monaural soundtracks, one in English, the other in Italian. I watched the film in English but sampled the Italian. As with most Italian genre films the film was filmed with actors speaking different languages and then dubbed in post-production, so neither track will offer a true advantage when it comes to lip-synching, though the English soundtrack probably does edge out a win in the end. The English soundtrack is fine, dialogue sound clean and clear with a little bit of fidelity present. Music sounds fine and sound effects also sound good, if with a slight edge.

My sampling of the Italian soundtrack showed a slight edge to everything, but it probably is a little sharper. Ultimately it will come down to preference.

(In-movie text, such as in newspapers or on notes, also differs between the English and Italian versions thanks to seamless branching.)

Extras 7/10

Arrow ports all of the features over from the Blu-ray edition, starting off with an audio commentary featuring critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman. The track ends up being a fun and energetic conversation with the two going over the history of the film’s production and its place alongside Argento’s other work. Interestingly, for me, it sounds as though this started off as a sort of sequel to Plumage (the two pointing out how that one is about someone who doesn’t understand what they see while Tails is about someone who doesn’t understand what they hear) but it went off in another direction. Though Argento isn’t fond of the film, finding it too American, the two provide a good defense for it, even defending the aspects that have been most piled upon by critics, like Catharine Spaak’s performance, but they still aren't shy in pointing out its poorly dated aspects, like a particular scientific element that drives the entire plot. I always enjoy Newman’s tracks and I found this to be both entertaining and very informative.

Arrow next includes a collection of new interviews. Dario Argento first talks about the film for 17-minutes, explaining its origins and his initial disappointment with it thanks to “too many” American moments within it. He also talks positively about the locations and the actors he was able to work with, but ends up kinda trashing the film’s cinematographer, Erico Menczer, saying he was “no Vittorio Storaro.” He's honest, to say the least.

Co-writer Dardano Sacchetti next talks for 30-minutes about his contribution to the film's screenplay along with stories about working in the Italian film industry, where it sounds as though you had to be on your toes to make sure you were paid what you were owed. Then-child actor Cinzia De Carolis talks for 11-minutes about the film and working with Karl Malden before talking about her short career afterwards, including American work under the name of Cindy Hamilton. Production designer Angelo Iacono then talks about setting up a few scenes, like the “car chase” sequence and the ending. He also talks a little about Morricone's music.

The disc then features script pages from the film’s original ending, which is also talked about in the Jones/Newman commentary track. The ending is lost so we simply get a presentation of the script text here, with stills from the film arranged in a way to give a visual idea. The feature concludes with the only known still of the scene in question. Closing off the disc are three trailers for the film: the Italian trailer, the international trailer, and the U.S. trailer. The Italian and international trailers look identical and are just presented in Italian and English respectively. The U.S. trailer ends up being a shorter version that feels to push the American actors more.

For this limited-edition Arrow also goes all-out in the packaging. The disc is housed in one of Arrow’s thicker 4K cases, which is then accompanied by, in a sturdy cardboard sleeve, a double-sided poster (featuring the new artwork on one side and an original poster on the other) and 58-page booklet. The booklet starts out with a reprinting of an article Argento wrote about the film for a 1996 issue of Sight & Sound, covering the production a little bit, along with how it has more in common with a Hitchcock film than one of his horror films. Barry Forshaw then provides a lengthy essay around Argento’s work (starting off with his appreciation over how Blu-ray is bringing more attention to his films) with a focus on The Cat O’ Nine Tails, which is then followed by Troy Howarth’s essay addressing how the film isn’t as highly regarded as some of Argento’s other works, though he still finds plenty to love about it. The booklet then closes with an essay by Howard Hughes on the film’s music, though he decides to focus on the work and career of singer/vocalist Edda Dell’Orso, not Morricone. It’s a wonderful little tribute that closes off with a list of 20 notable tracks featuring her.

It feels a little slimmer when compared to what Arrow put together for Plumage but I enjoyed the material, the Jones/Newman commentary being my favourite addition.

Closing

It’s still a nice special edition from Arrow, with a decent array of supplementary material, with the 4K/HDR upgrade delivering a sharper looking image over their previous Blu-ray.

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Directed by: Dario Argento
Year: 1971
Time: 112 min.
 
Series: Arrow Video
Release Date: August 24 2021
MSRP: $59.95
 
4K UHD Blu-ray
1 Disc | UHD-100
2.35:1 ratio
English 1.0 DTS-HD MA Mono
Italian 1.0 DTS-HD MA Mono
Subtitles: English
Region None
HDR: Dolby Vision
 
 Audio commentary by critics Alan Jones and Kim Newman   Nine Lives, an interview with co-writer/director Dario Argento   The Writer O’ Many Tales, an interview with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti   Child Star, an interview with actress Cinzia De Carolis   Giallo in Turin, an interview with production manager Angelo Iacono   Script pages for the lost original ending, translated into English for the first time   Original Italian trailer   Original international trailer   Original US trailer   Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring an original essay on the film by Dario Argento, and writing by Barry Forshaw, Troy Howarth and Howard Hughes   Fold-out double-sided poster featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Obviously Creative   Six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproduction artcards   Limited edition packaging with reversible sleeve featuring originally and newly commissioned artwork by Obviously Creative