Saturday, February 10, 2018

Snappy, gorgeous Blu-ray debut for Argento's sophomore effort, THE CAT O' NINE TAILS

As crisp and gloriously transferred as many of these new Arrow Video  Blu-rays so often are, the company's new one of THE CAT 'O NINE TAILS -- the second full-length film to be directed by Italian giallo maven Dario Argento -- is of a piece with so many of this fellow's films: sub-par plot and storytelling but with enough of the then-necessary amounts of violence and murder to sate the audience's appetite. What really nails this release, however, is its nostalgic time frame.

Released in 1971, the movie, seen today, proves a delirious walk down the memory lane of that era, with its fashions, home furnishings, hair styles and all the rest on major display. And with the stunningly produced new Blu-ray, with images as crisp as you could want and colors so rich and deep you can practically swim in them, this more than makes up for the usual, not-so-hot Argento story-line.

As with his earlier Bird With the Crystal Plumage, the filmmaker uses a couple of well-known stars of the day in the lead roles -- this time it's James Franciscus (above, right) and Karl Malden (above, left) -- abetted by an international cast (mostly Italian, of course) in secondary roles.

The movie begins well enough, with a burglary in which nothing seems to have been taken, followed by a murder (to keep that burglary quiet), and then another and another and so on. The setting -- one of them anyway -- is a genetics laboratory, and so naturally those tricky little X's and Y's come naughtily into play.

The movie may have been the first to tackle the theory that a certain X-Y combination results more often than not in violent tendencies, and so, of course, something must be done about the folk who carry this combo. (Spielberg's Minority Report is a more futuristic example of this sub-genre of "how-do-we-handle-possible-troublemakers?")

Being an Argento movie, however, little time or thought is given to morality or philosophy. Instead, the set-up is simply an excuse for multiple murders (above and further above). With a single exception, these are not nearly as bloody as other of this schlock-meister's oeuvre as, more often than not, they involve garroting via a very thin rope rather than using knives or hachets. (Argento's best film, Deep Red, has more gore, depth and a much more interesting plot.)

Unmasking the killer, too, is usually a lot more fun than it proves here (Oh, it's that one? Big deal.) And getting there is also a bit of a slough. Mr. Franciscus, above, plays a handsome journalist, while Mr. Malden, below, essays the role of a blind man and puzzle expert into whose care has come an orphaned child, who will become the final pawn in the murderer's game.

Early on, some time and trouble is given to Malden's ability to hear better than sighted folk, but then that ball is mostly dropped, too, as the corpses pile up. Along the way, we do get a few moments of genuine suspense now and gain. One of these -- more heavily manufactured than necessary --  involves some poisoned milk (below) and who is going to sample it.

The female lead is played by Catherine Spaak (above, and in pink further above), who fills the beauty bill just fine, while managing the acting stuff adequately. The better-than-average musical score comes from Ennio Morricone, and the little bit of humor present comes from a talented fellow named Gigi who is very good at breaking-and-entering.

Coincidence abounds, as is usual in the giallo genre, and we also get the kind of florid finale that movies so seldom give us anymore. The film is also casually homophobic, which was rather de rigeuer in the early 1970s. (The Dirty Harry sequel, Magnum Force, arrived just a couple of years later.)

The Bonus Extras and Special features included are of the usual Arrow Video plentitude and range from a fold-out poster and several lobby card reproductions to a limited edition booklet, Italian and international theatrical trailers, interviews with Argento and his co-writer, a commentary track, versions of the film in both English (with subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired) and Italian (with English subtitles), and of course the new 4K restoration of the film in a high-def Blu-ray 1080p presentation.

But, really, it's the last one that matters most. I swear you can count the threads in some of the sweaters and carpets you'll see here -- the film looks that crisp and sharp. And dig that crazy wallpaper above, which is either Jackson Pollack- or maybe Jellyfish-inspired. Oh -- those 70s!

From Arrow Video, distributed here in the USA via MVD Entertainment Group and running a too-long 112 minutes, Cat O' Nine Tails hits the street this coming Tuesday, February 13 -- for purchase, of course (you get all those "extras), and I would hope also for rental.

No comments: