The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: what’s the point of including multiple language options if you’re not also going to provide subtitles for them as well? It’s nice to be able to listen to a foreign film in its “original” language (and yes, I know I’ve said before that “original language” is a vexed concept in Italian cinema) but it helps if it’s subtitled in a language one actually speaks… bah. Anyway, not one of Argento’s more popular films, least of all with the man himself who has apparently called it his least favourite work; it seems to have done well in Europe but not the US (I think the Maltin guide still only gives it 1½ stars), and I wasn’t expecting great things, but I saw the Anchor Bay edition for $10 at Lawson’s recently so couldn’t resist. And true, I didn’t really get great things as such, but I hardly thought it was as bad as that. Argento plays it as a fairly straight murder-mystery that’s actually about the plot as much as the style, a tale of blackmail, multiple killings and dubious genetics to be unravelled by the unlikely duo of James Franciscus’ reporter and Karl Malden’s blind puzzle compiler (who make an intriguing coupling indeed). Comparisons with Hitchcock are actually not unfair (cf. the barber shop scene with the barber complaining about the police suspecting a barber of being the killer), and the tomb-robbing at night is actually remarkably well done). Maybe the film is comparatively unloved cos it’s just not as violent as Deep Red? I don’t know. I thought it was quite good, though, and for $10 I won’t complain. The question of whether Argento just got lucky in the 70s or whether he had some actual skills that have largely vanished since then still hasn’t really been answered, but this is some evidence in his favour at least…

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