The Cat o' Nine Tails

Year 1971

James Franciscus as Carlo Giordani
Karl Malden as  Franco ArnÚ
Catherine Spaak as Anna Terzi
Pier Paolo Capponi   as Police Supt. Spini  
Tino Carraro as Prof. Fulvio Terzi  
Rada Rassimov as Bianca Merusi
Director - Dario Argento
Screenwriters - Dario Argento
  - Luigi Collo
  - Dardano Sacchetti  
Music - Ennio Morricone

I haven't watched enough Dario Argento to say whether or not The Cat o' Nine Tails is an Argento movie. From what I gather on the web, it is. I guess he has special camera angles and lighting that he uses to make a movie his. To me, it was just another dubbed Italian movie.

The Cat o' Nine Tails is a murder mystery. A doctor at a genetics research company gets bumped off. A day later, another one is turned into worm food. Pretty soon, there're only two researchers left at the company.

There are different versions of this movie floating around. I watched something that was cut but still had some scenes that aren't in other, longer versions. Mine was missing one murder and the sight of Catherine Spaak topless. Too bad on the latter.

But then the transfer to DVD was so bad that I might not have been able to see much anyway. Comparing my TGG version with the 4:3 aspect ration and 90 minute running time to the full-blown widescreen 115 minute version, you'd think I'd lost a lot of the movie. I mean there are 25 minutes and half a screen missing from my pan and scan version. The movie isn't good enough to track down the "definitive" version to watch again.

I don't care if the framing adds to the movie. I don't care if the dark shadows show something more than a black screen. I don't care if there's a clue or two added. It's just not worth it.

Suppose that the definitive version gets rid of many of the continuity issues, and from what I can that would be true. That still leaves many others that nothing can salvage. Even fans of Dario Argento say that this one is "flawed" and Dario Argento calls it his least favorite movie.

My take is that the director and screenwriters didn't have a goal in mind. The premise is that men with the sex gene combination of XYY are sociopaths. A brief digression into genetics... Most people have two sex chromosomes. For women they have XX and men it's XY. That little extra tail on that one chromosome, the difference between an X and a Y, is what women need for all of the extra plumbing. Physically speaking, women ARE more complicated than men.

Everybody has pairs of chromosomes, and except for that one Y, they all look like two xs. There's only one Y chromosome. Now nothing's without exceptions so there are people with XYY, XXY, and XXX sex chromosome "pairs". They are referred to supermen, Klinefelter's syndrome, and superwomen. The whole "super" thing has fallen out of favor. What do these super people have in common? They're fairly aggressive.

In fight or flight situations, they'll usually fight. Studies indicate that there's a higher percentage of XYY men in prison than can be explained by coincidence. This should NOT be taken to mean that all XYY men wind up in prison, though. XYY men are not sociopaths, either. They're just slightly quicker to anger than a usual guy. They don't kill, murder, or rape because they're XYY. They might punch people and destroy property for that reason though.

But the premise of the movie is that anyone with XYY is a psychonutjob. Not a good starting point.

Back to the events in the movie. Franco ArnÚ (Malden) is a recently blinded ex-journalist. He overhears a conversion one night and the next day the person he heard is dead. Carlo Giordani (Franciscus) is a currently working newspaperman that ArnÚ convinces to help him track down the murderer. So far, so good.

Then we get into the people pushed in front of trains, sometimes strangled, sometimes stabbed, etc. murders. It's supposed to be a case of after one murder, Pandora's Box is opened and you have to keep killing to remain free. When the death toll at one department of a company reaches four with a couple of collateral killings thrown in for good measure, even someone with XYY would conclude that the plan isn't working and it's time to get out of town. None of the murders is either particularly gruesome or clever. But the body count keeps mounting, whether by truncheon or poison. The police, ever slow on the uptake, are even forced to admit that maybe the deaths might not be accidental. But what's the motive?

In a really disjointed final scene, the motive is revealed! If you haven't figured out who the murderer is by this time, here's a clue, it's the only researcher who hasn't been killed.

Besides the fact that the writers knew nothing about genetics (in one office there are pictures of Xs and Ys on the wall and this supposedly is a representation of human chromosomes - NOT!), there are things like a rich girl falling for Giordani because he's got a cool car, the near clairvoyant ability of the killer to find people who might cause him problems, some really bad attempts at humor (the humor is okay but it's misplaced), different sets used for same locations, complete chaos regarding spacial dimensions (that room's how big?), and one of most androgynous females I've ever seen. At only 33 years old, Rada Rassimov did not age well and looked a man in drag. Scary.

To give you some idea of the lapses of logic in this movie, let's look at the title. Why The Cat o' Nine Tails? Because, at a specific point in the movie, there are seven suspects/corpses and two clues (yep, only two). This adds up to nine. Why a cat? Argento must've liked it or been told, "Do a movie called The Cat o' Nine Tails," and this is how he justified the title and not something like, oh, The Duck o' Nine Tails or, keeping with the animal theme for punishment, The Black Snake, or how about The Wheel of Fortune.

Blasphemy and nudity (although not in my version). Karl Malden's good, as always, but the jumpy meandering of the movie makes it an exercise in patience for a small pay-off. Chick flick potential is about average. You could do worse, but that's not saying much.

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