Franco Arno (Karl Malden) is blind. He lives with his niece Lori (Cinzia De Carolis). For a living he creates crossword puzzles using a special puzzle board. While walking home one night Franco hears a man in a car say “I’m not interested in blackmailing you. I have to pass on the information.” He has Lori look at the man and describe him to him. Franco makes a mental note of the situation and continues home. The next day he learns from a reporter named Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) that the research institute next door was broken into and the night watchman knocked unconscious but nothing was taken. The institute is run by Professor Fulvio Terzi (Tino Carraro) and his daughter Anna (Catherine Spaak). They deal in highly classified research.
Dr. Calabresi (Carlo Alighiero) works at the institute. He receives a phone call. He tells his fiancé Bianca (Rada Rassimov) that he has some things to do but that he knows who broke in and what they took. He asks her not to tell anyone. When Calabresi goes to meet the thief at the train station he is pushed in front of an oncoming train and killed. Lori sees the notice in the paper about Calabresi’s death. She tells Franco that he is the man she saw in the car the night before. The article was written by Giordani. There is also a picture of Calabresi falling in front of the train taken by a photographer who happened to be at the train station at the time. The photographer, Righetto (Vittorio Congia), works with Giordani.
Arno visits Giordani at his office. Being a former newspaperman himself Arno asks if the picture was cropped. A call to Righetto reveals that an arm and a hand are visible to the left of the photograph. It appears that Calabresi was pushed. Giordani and Arno race to the photographer’s apartment. When they get there they find that Righetto has been garroted and sliced up.
Arno and Giordani decide to team up to try and find out who the killer is and the reason behind the deaths. But the deeper they get the riskier it gets and the more people that die. The duo finds themselves being stalked by a violent killer. One that will kill anyone to hide his secret.
“The Cat O’ Nine Tails” was released in 1971 and was directed by Dario Argento. It is an Italian Giallo and was adapted from a story by Dardano Sacchetti, Luigi Cozzi and Bryan Edgar Wallace. This is the second of a trilogy of films referred to as Argento’s animal trilogy. The other films being “The Bird With the Crystal Plumage” 1970 and “Four Flies on Grey Velvet” 1971.
Perhaps not his best film it still was a fascinating movie, perhaps due to Argento’s dream-like style of filming. You become involved in piecing together the clues and quite often come up with the wrong answer when trying to identify the killer. Although there are no obvious twists and turns to the plot there are a few slight curves that almost send you, temporarily, in the wrong direction.
Karl Malden’s performance was excellent. His actions when Lori is not by his side are of a man who is lost without direction. His home, that he knows intimately, becomes a foreign land without her steady presence. His fear for her safety is revealed in his quiet hopeless panic. His contented life is turned inside out just by overhearing two sentences in the darkness. Normally his roles are of forceful and overbearing cops but here he shows exceptional talent by how his character is played in an understated yet powerful persona. Franciscus was good as usual.
The film is a stylized slasher movie. It reminds me of “The New York Ripper” by director Lucio Fulci only not quite as scattered. The scene where Dr. Calabresi gets run over by the train is quite detailed and actually kinda gross. Each murder has its own intensity to it but they’re quick enough that the overall impression is that the movie has less gore than most even though it does. It’s just that the gore is a little on the creative side.