The Cat O’ Nine Tails (1971)

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The Cat O’ Nine Tails is the second entry into Dario Argento’s ‘Animal’ trilogy. In comparison to The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, The Cat O’ Nine Tails is a much more imaginative Giallo film with a plot that revolves around a Journalist and an aging blind man as they try to solve several murders that have a strange relevance with a local science institute. Unfortunately, The Cat O’ Nine Tails was released to a less than satisfactory reception: whilst successful in Europe, the film was downright dismissed in America. Dario Argento himself has repeatedly stated that The Cat O’ Nine Tails is his least favourite of all of his films. Personally, I feel that The Cat O’ Nine Tails is far from being Dario Argento’s worst film, as there’s a lot of good aspects that help make The Cat O’ Nine Tails stand out amongst Dario Argento’s repertoire.

Firstly, The Cat O’ Nine Tails offers something that The Bird With The Crystal Plumage was lacking: character development. The characters that Dario Argento create in The Cat O’ Nine Tails are more fleshed out, more empathetic, and much more interesting than the characters of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage as each has their own relationships, likes, dislikes, wants and needs that make them feels far better than the archetypes that were front and center in The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. With The Cat O’ Nine Tails, Dario Argento also shows a hint of blunt satire in his writing. A large part of the story of The Cat O’ Nine Tails focuses on the hedonistic lifestyle of the rich and successful through controversial themes of affair, incest, secrecy and espionage. The characters are written in such a way that none of them can be described as ‘innocent’, whilst the poorer characters, such as the blind Franco Arno or the Journalist Giordani, are portrayed as being honest, hardworking individuals, thus making them easy for an average viewer to relate to.

Strangely enough, this inclusion of satirical themes supports the film’s overall mystery, providing a lot of opportunities for red herrings and dead ends that flesh out the film’s story, keeping the audience on the edge of the seat, keep them guessing the identity of the film’s killer. As for the films story, the mystery of The Cat O’ Nine Tails feels somewhat simpler than The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, allowing room for character arcs and character based story-telling. Throughout the film, Dario Argento expanded his utilization of suspense: in The Bird With The Crystal Plumage he made an assassination attempt frighteningly tense, but in The Cat O’ Nine Tails he made the act of drinking a glass of milk suspenseful thanks to the application of dark atmosphere, dramatic irony and character development. However, one big problem with The Cat O’ Nine Tails is that the film spends a lot of time focusing on unnecessary relationships and interactions for the purposes of misleading characters and providing red herrings that go absolutely nowhere. With The Cat O’ Nine Tails, it’s hard to determine whether a story element is introduced to enhance the story, or if it’s introduced to provide a distraction that doesn’t enhance the story in any way. In the end, I felt that The Cat O’ Nine Tails was much longer than it needed to be thanks to the films unnecessary plot points that dragged on and on, hurting the film’s mystery and suspense.

However, what makes The Cat O’ Nine Tails an interesting watch is the fact that it’s a perfect introduction to Dario Argento’s style. The film contains a lot of techniques that would go on to become Dario Argento’s iconic style. The film mixes imaginative story-telling with psychedelic imagery, colourful lighting, beautifully rich settings, uncomfortable POV cinematography and disturbingly graphic death scenes that culminate into a gloriously exaggerated, yet incredibly cathartic, final death scene.  The Bird With The Crystal Plumage was definitely playing it safe, but The Cat O’ Nine Tails is more experimental, and I feel that it’s the kind of film that Dario Argento wanted to make as a lot of these techniques are utilized and perfected in his later works.

All in all, I liked The Cat O’ Nine Tails. It definitely drags on for too long near the end, but its more indicative of Dario Argento’s style than The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. I wouldn’t say it’s better than The Bird With The Crystal Plumage as both films are equally good for different reasons: The Bird With The Crystal Plumage has a deep mystery but lacks character development, The Cat O’ Nine Tails has better character development but it lacks the deep mystery. In a way, they balance each other out, but The Cat O’ Nine Tails definitely feels more like a Dario Argento film than The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. In conclusion, despite Dario Argento’s disapproval of his own work, there’s a lot of good aspects about The Cat O’ Nine Tails, and I would definitely recommend that one experiences what the film has to offer.

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