Here’s another installment featuring Joe Dante’s reviews from his stint as a critic for Film Bulletin circa 1969-1974. Our thanks to Video Watchdog and Tim Lucas for his editorial embellishments!
Disappointing suspenser from Italy about murders at a research institute. Contrived and plodding, but has sporadic gore and violence for the action markets. Rating: GP.
Italian writer‑director Dario Argento, who struck pay dirt with his first feature, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, is back with another suspense item which is less credible and exciting than the earlier film. Though THE CAT O’NINE TAILS begins promisingly with a blind man overhearing a murder conversation, cut‑ins of the killer’s huge staring eyeball, and a nice Ennio Morricone score, it soon dissipates itself with endless clue‑solving, none of which is especially artful or coherent.
The middle portions fall notably slack, slowing to a virtual crawl before exploding unto a gorily violent, unsatisfying climax. Backed by a strong hard‑sell, the Italian‑French‑German National General import should perform adequately in action markets, though its lack of suspense and rather overextended plotting will eventually relegate it to dualler status. The title, an obscure reference to the various clues, will be no help. The fact that the murder victims herein are incessantly gagging, spitting, gurgling and coughing-up bright red blood is no compensation for a plot which, when it’s not confusing, is merely contrived. A researcher at an institute investigating crime‑causing chromosomes falls beneath a train.
On a tip from blind ex‑reporter Karl Malden, newsman James Franciscus has a photo of the event enlarged, revealing a hand pushing the victim off the platform. Before Franciscus can get the picture, the photographer is garrotted in his darkroom. The dead scientist’s mistress hides a note identifying the killer in her watch before she, too, dies a gurgling death. The police investigate all the shifty‑looking researchers while the murderer makes periodic attempts to knock off Franciscus via such clever ruses as injecting poison into his milk cartons. After more of the same, including a trip to the dead girl’s tomb to find her watch, the killer kidnaps Malden’s little seeing‑eye niece Ginzella DeCarolis and hides out at the institute. Franciscus fights it out on the roof with the fiend, who turns but to be one of the more anonymous researchers.
Franciscus takes quite a beating, especially considering the GP rating. He gets stomped, stabbed, spurts blood from all directions and the last we see him, he’s rolling down the roof. However, Malden pushes the killer through a skylight. Argento’s direction is straightforward, but not very adept at developing essential suspense. Franciscus and Malden do as well as can be expected with the material at hand. Catherine Spaak is the occasionally suspicious heroine. A brief scene in which she reveals her breasts is dramatically superfluous, but for many viewers it may well be the high point of the picture.
Il gatto a nove code. 1971. National General. (Transconta Productions). Eastman Color, Panavision. minutes. James Franciscus, Karl Malden. Catherine Spaak. Produced by Salvatore Argento. Directed by Dario Argento.