Film Review: The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971)

Also known as: I Am an Eyewitness (Japanese English title)
Release Date: February 12th, 1971 (Milan premiere)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Bryan Edgar Wallace, Dardano Sacchetti, Luigi Cozzi, Luigi Collo
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak

Mondial Te.Fi., Seda Spettacoli S.p.A., Labrador Films, Terra-Filmkunst GmbH, Constantin Film Verleih GmbH, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Nothing’s easy for me. I can’t even knock over a chair without getting caught.” – Gigi, the Loser

I love giallo movies and I have been a fan of Dario Argento since I first experienced Suspiria pretty early in life. For some bizarre reason, I have never seen The Cat O’ Nine Tails. It is part of Argento’s Animal Trilogy, which are three films released consecutively but are unrelated, other than being directed by Argento, having an animal name in their titles and having similar themes from a narrative and stylistic standpoint.

To be brutally honest, while I enjoy the film, overall, this was the slowest old school Argento movie that I have seen. There were aspects of the film that were interesting but it was a boring experience overall.

This has the same visual flair that Argento gave us in The Bird with Crystal Plumage but it seemed to be shot more straightforward and lacked the cinematography and lighting flourishes he employed so well in his previous movie. Where most Argento movies, especially the ones of the ’70s and ’80s, felt so majestic, this one feels very pedestrian for a giallo. Luckily, Argento would embrace his patented stylistic flourishes and give us some vivid nightmares after this picture.

The story is about a middle-aged blind man who helps a newspaper reporter try to solve a series of murders. The murders are connected to a pharmaceutical company’s secret research. The two men then become targets of the killer and must try to outwit the murderer while trying to find out the truth behind it all.

The narrative really is a solid murder mystery that almost has film-noir elements to it. There are those patented noir twists, turns and curveballs that keep you guessing. In some regard, it is an example of a relation between some giallo films and the American and British noir pictures of the ’40s and ’50s. I’ve often called giallo a bridge between noir and slasher flicks and this is an example of how I came to that theory.

This isn’t one of Argento’s best and he even said that it was his least favorite film that he directed. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t worthwhile, especially to fans of his work that want to see how he evolved from his earliest films to his more famous movies.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other two films in Argento’s Animal TrilogyThe Bird With the Crystal Plumage and Four Flies On Grey Velvet.

Film Review: The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Also known as: Point of Terror (US alternate title)
Release Date: February 19th, 1970 (Italy)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento
Based on: The Screaming Mimi by Fredric Brown (uncredited)
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall, Enrico Maria Salerno, Eva Renzi

Seda Spettacoli, CCC Filmkunst GmbH, Titanus, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Bring out the perverts!” – Inspector Morosini

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage would be a high point for any director’s career. In the case of Italian giallo maestro Dario Argento, this was his debut picture.

Tapping into a major influence of his, Argento took the giallo style that Mario Bava was famous for and gave it a much harder edge and grittier atmosphere. Argento still employs a vibrant color palate to create this world he lets us live in for 101 minutes but everything is much more realistic and less fantastical.

Crystal Plumage really takes the giallo formula to a slasher movie level. And while it even has a certain aura of film-noir, it bridges the gap between these distant generations almost seamlessly. It is a true giallo but it taps into an older Hitchcockian thriller vibe and looks towards the future with touches of John Carpenter. It truly is a bizarre and eye opening experience, as it shows you how certain genres can kind of give birth to new and different things: noir to giallo and giallo to slashers. That evolution has never been clearer than it is in this picture.

The film is a murder mystery where the murders start to pile up. Pretty girls die, the hero witnesses a murder attempt and then puts himself in harms way in order to lure the killer out. Eventually, his girlfriend is put into danger because what is a giallo without a pretty girl running from a knife?

The main actor is Tony Musante, who I liked a lot in the Sergio Corbucci spaghetti western The Mercenary. He starred alongside the great Franco Nero in that one, as well as Jack Palance – a good pair of actors to learn from. His girlfriend is played by Suzy Kendall, who would go on to be in another pivotal giallo picture, Sergio Martino’s Torso.

This film is also a part of a loose trilogy of pictures by Argneto referred to as The Animal Trilogy. The other two films are the ones that immediately followed this one: The Cat o’ Nine Tails and Four Flies On Grey Velvet. All three films share similar themes and have a consistent visual style.

This was the precursor to a lot of great work by Argento. It was a magnificent starting point for the young director and he also got to work with the legendary composer Ennio Morricone.

The film is a visual feast and showed that Dario Argento had something exceptional in regards to his ability to shoot a scene and how to use color and darkness. A true master of mise-en-scène from the very get go, Argento’s work here is pretty profound for his lack of experience helming a motion picture.

Rating: 8/10