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Dario Argento
James Franciscus, Karl Malden, Catherine Spaak
Writing Credits:
Dario Argento

A newspaper reporter and a blind journalist try to solve a series of killings connected to a pharmaceutical company's experimental, top-secret research projects.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Dolby Vision
Italian DTS-HD MA Monaural
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 112 min.
Price: $59.95
Release Date: 8/24/2021

• Audio Commentary with Film Historians Alan Jones and Kim Newman
• “Nine Tails” Featurette
• “The Writer O’ Many Tales” Featurette
• “Child Star” Featurette
• “Giallo in Turin” Featurette
• Original Ending
• Image Galleries
• Trailers
• Paper Materials


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The Cat O' Nine Tails [4K UHD] (1971)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 4, 2021)

Back in 1970, Dario Argento made his directorial debut with the seminal giallo flick Bird With the Crystal Plumage. As follow-up, Argento made another thriller via 1971’s The Cat O’ Nine Tails.

Visually-impaired former journalist Franco Arno (Karl Malden) now lives with his niece Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) and creates crossword puzzles to make a living. On a walk one evening, he overhears a conversation that discusses genetic experiments that allegedly take place at a nearby institute.

This re-awakens the reporter in Franco. Along with active journalist Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus), they investigate, a choice that eventually imperils their lives as they uncover dark secrets.

When I first saw Bird With the Crystal Plumage in 2017, I entered the film with low expectations because my limited prior engagement with Argento came from his awful 2013 Dracula. That film led me to view Argento as nothing more than a tacky schlock-meister.

However, Bird brought me a pretty tight little thriller. As such, this meant I went into Cat with higher expectations that I did its predecessor.

Alas, Cat didn’t match up with those hopes. Though not a bad movie, it tends to become less than enthralling.

And by “less than enthralling”, I mean “surprisingly dull”. Cat starts in a sluggish manner and it never picks up much from there.

Cat attempts to follow a Hitchcockian path, but Argento can’t give the story the necessary tension or momentum. We find ourselves stuck with an oddly slow-paced tale that plods when it needs to thrill.

Honestly, Cat comes across like a project where the producers imposed their will too strongly, as the presence of American stars Franciscus and Malden feels like a decision made to broaden international appeal. Though talented actors – especially Malden – neither fits this project, partly because we’re supposed to view them as Italians while both seem totally American.

Neither Franciscus nor Malden can bring life to their flat roles. Malden feels oddly jovial despite the story’s dark overtones, and Franciscus lacks personality.

The movie’s main problem remains pacing, though, and the flat nature of the mystery. At the story’s heart, we should get a pretty good thriller, with some corporate skullduggery as a hook.

In execution, though, Cat lacks cleverness or much to connect the viewer to the schemes and violence that we find. Suspense seems hard to locate, as the movie mostly just plods from one inert scene to another.

I liked Bird enough that I’ll give Argento another shot when/if one of his films hits my door. Unfortunately, Cat leaves me less enthusiastic to do so than I’d like.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C/ Bonus B

The Cat O’ Nine Tails appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this 4K UHD Disc. This Dolby Vision presentation looked surprisingly good given its age and origins.

For the most part, sharpness fared well. Occasional interiors felt a bit on the soft side, but these remained modest and appeared to reflect the source. The movie usually came with good accuracy.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects materialized, and edge haloes remained absent. With a nice layer of grain, the transfer appeared to lack problematic use of noise reduction, and it also came free from print flaws.

Colors leaned toward the blue side, though it tossed out some greens and vivid reds as well. These came across with nice vivacity and punch, and the disc’s HDR allowed the tones to seem especially dynamic.

Blacks appeared deep and dense, while shadows boasted nice clarity. The HDR gave whites and contrast nice impact. Though not an image you’ll use to show off your 4K TV, Cat nonetheless offered a highly satisfying presentation.

Given that Cat exists as an Italian production, one would view its Italian soundtrack as the way to go. However, I don’t feel that way in this case.

Though the film used actors of varying nationalities, it clearly asked them to speak English dialogue. The Blu-ray includes both Italian and English mixes, and normally I go with “original”, but in this case I favored the English track.

I did so simply because it matched the dialogue. Since the actors spoke the lines in English, this made it the logical choice, especially because speech lined up with lip movements better – and the Italian version didn’t use Malden and Franciscus to dub their original work.

Even in that regard, the movie’s DTS-HD MA monaural track faltered due to the nature of the source. As mentioned earlier, like most Italian productions, all the dialogue got looped in post-production – and looped poorly in this case, as the lines often don’t match mouth movements especially well.

The dubbed nature of the speech meant lackluster quality as well. The lines tended to be thick and reedy, without natural tones. The dialogue always suffered from that “canned” sound so typical of looped material.

Effects tended to feel dated. While they didn’t show much distortion, they also lacked a lot of range or clarity.

Music worked better, as the score seemed satisfactory. I couldn’t claim these elements displayed terrific reproduction, but they became the best aspect of the mix. Ultimately, this turned into a pretty blah auditory experience.

A few extras appear here, and we open with an audio commentary from film historians Alan Jones and Kim Newman. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at the movie’s development and place in Dario Argento’s filmography, story/characters, cast and performances, sets and locations, influences and interpretation, music, and other production notes.

Overall, this becomes a fairly good commentary. The chat tends to feel a little more casual than I might like, as Jones and Newman tend to shift among subjects without a great deal of focus, but they still give us more than enough content to make the track worth a listen.

Nine Tails brings us a 2017 interview with co-writer/director Dario Argento. In this 15-minute, 57-second piece, Argento discusses the movie’s roots and development, sets and locations, cast and crew, photography, some scene specifics and his view of the final film.

This becomes a generally informative chat. Argento never really digs too deeply, so the chat lacks great value, but it throws out enough content to merit a listen.

Next comes The Writer O’ Many Tales, a 34-minute, 46-second interview with co-writer Dardano Sacchetti. He covers what interested him in films as well as aspects of the movie’s story and script, working with Argento, and other aspects of his career.

Whereas Argento kept matters fairly dry during his interview, Sacchetti spices up his chat with plenty of anecdotes. Some of these tend to feel a bit off-topic, but Sacchetti still brings some entertaining tales along with film-related facts.

Child Star spans 11 minutes, two seconds and offers notes from actor Cinzia De Carolis. She tells us about her time in movies and her work on Cat. This doesn’t become an especially fascinating collection of memories, but De Carolis adds some decent notes.

With Giallo in Turin, we locate a 15-minute, 11-second interview with production manager Angelo Iacono. He talks about locations and his work on the film in this mostly engaging chat.

The film’s Original Ending lasts three minutes, nine seconds. Because the actual footage went lost, this presentation gives us photos and script pages.

This adds an epilogue that the final cut loses. It makes the movie’s finish more concrete but not necessarily more satisfying.

In addition to three trailers for Cat, we find six Image Galleries. These cover “Posters” (15 stills), “Italian Lobby Cards” (4), “German Promotional Materials” (25), “US Promotional Materials” (11), “US Pressbook” (13) and “Soundtracks” (7). These add some value.

After a good debut, director Dario Argento fails to live up to expectations via Cat O’ Nine Tails. Though the story comes with reasonable potential, the narrative tends to plod and fail to find the necessary tension and intrigue. The Blu-ray boasts very good visuals and a nice set of supplements but audio seems dated and dull. Cat disappoints.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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