Cat O'Nine Tails

Cat O'Nine Tails

"That's it then. Nine leads to follow. It's a cat with nine tails."

A mysterious break-in at a high-tech genetics lab where nothing was apparently stolen has the police baffled, but newspaper reporter Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) is determined to follow the story. He is joined by Franco Arno (Karl Malden), a blind crossword puzzle creator and shrewd amateur detective who uses his remaining senses to their full advantage. Before long, the burglar turns to murder in order to cover up the secret of his crime. Who could it be? One of the five lead scientists working on an important scientific breakthrough? Or perhaps it's Anna Terzi (Catherine Spaak), the sexy daughter of the company's owner. As they get closer to the truth, Carlo and Franco find that they are the killer's next targets!

Cat O'Nine Tails has a bad rap. It's generally considered to be one of Dario Argento's weakest films but it's not a bad movie at all. I will concede that it's about 20 minutes too long, but this movie is certainly not in his bottom five. It has a clever plot, interesting characters, good action, well-realized kill scenes, and top-notch suspense. But instead of taking it on its own terms, this sophomore effort is unjustly compared to Argento's dazzling debut, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, and how do you follow up such a groundbreaking opus? To put it in a more modern context, Cat O'Nine Tails is Argento's Unbreakable.

  • So blind amateur detective Karl Malden cares for orphan girl Laurie and together they solve crimes with handsome newspaper reporter Carlo. How was this not a TV show? They could have pitched it as "Face from The A-Team meets Murder She Wrote meets Punky Brewster."  Get Aaron Spelling involved and you've got a hit on your hands.
  • Was the security guard murdered at the break-in? I don't think his injuries were fatal so I didn't list him in the body count. If he had died, everyone would have referred to the crime as "the murder" rather than "the burglary."
  • Argento punctuates this movie with some really good set pieces: a suspenseful scene with poisoned milk, a car chase through Torino, a tense safe cracking scene, and a climactic rooftop brawl.  I also love that after narrowly escaping a poisoning, Carlo is apprehensive about drinking milk for the rest of the movie.
  • Karl Malden is, arguably, the most famous actor ever to appear in a giallo film.
What the Hell Am I Watching?

The investigation takes Carlo to the lamest gay bar ever. I'm sure it was meant to represent the dark, dirty underbelly of the city but it looks just like your average Applebee's. Please notice in the background that they have a print of Richard Avedon's famous portrait of George Harrison.

One of Argento's favorite things (especially in these early movies) is to jump into a scene at the end of a conversation. So we repeatedly hear the end of one of Carlo's colleague's recipes, an anecdote about a sexy encounter at a tailor's shop, and the conclusion of an insult contest at a bar. It's a cute device that throws us out of context for a second and provides the film with a little lightness.

Why would a building have an elevator shaft that leads up to a skylight? Is that even possible?

Fashion Moment

Anna has a thing for these intricately-constructed outfits with cutouts all over the blouse and slits up the sides of the pants. Just like with her personal relationships, she keeps things covered up and reveals only as much as is nescessary.


  1. This site is really great. I love the work you put into the infographics. I intend to use your site to find more giallo to watch. I'm currently watching Cat O' Nine Tails again. I really love the set up.

  2. I definitely remember bewbs, brief ones at that but bewbs all the same, of the easy to untie dresses variety equipped with velcro ancestors...
    Also, I may be mistaken but I'm sure I remember a red phone somewhere in that film. I guess I'll just have to re-watch, again...