Thursday, May 29, 2014

Il gatto a nove code (1971)

Il gatto a nove code (aka The Cat O'Nine Tails), directed by Dario Argento (often referred to as the Italian Hitchcock), is a suspense thriller involving genetic studies at a research institute.  Franco Arno (Karl Malden) is a blind professional crossword puzzle maker who lives with his young niece.  Walking home one night, they overhear two men in a car discussing a discovery that must be reported.  Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) is a newspaper reporter that covers a burglary at the Terzi Institure, which occurred that same night.  Ultimately, murders begin to occur, involving individuals connected with the institute, and Franco and Carlo work together trying to solve the mystery.  The mystery involves research at the institute concerning genetic markers that predict individuals more likely to be murderers.  Catherine plays the role of Anna Terzi, daughter of the institute's owner and one of many possible suspects in the case.  I'll leave the plot summary at that, so as not to risk any spoilers.

Catherine looks stunning in a variety of very mod-looking 1970 fashions and a hair-style unlike any she had before, Catherine gives a good performance in a supporting role, there are some cool cars in the film (including one driven by Catherine), the Ennio Morricone score is good, the actors are good, and the film is visually interesting (as you would expect from a Dario Argento-directed film).  With that said, I would not label this a "great" film, or even a "very good" one.  After a few viewings my assessment has grown from "OK" to "good."  My conclusion, then, is that the script and story must be what holds the film back.  I don't want to be too hard on the film.  I just want to convey the sense that it seems to be missing something in my estimation.  It never quite rises to the level of being great, overall, even though there are some great elements.

I am not a Dario Argento expert.  Besides this film, I have watched The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, and Suspiria.  To give you some view of my perspective on his work, I think that Suspiria is decent, but over-rated, and I like Crystal Plumage and Four Flies better than Cat O'Nine Tails.

As I watched this film, I had three questions on my mind:

1.  Did Catherine do her own English dubbing? I have not watched the film in Italian with English subtitles.  The actors clearly mouthed their lines in English for later dubbing, so it makes sense to me that English is the language in which it should be viewed.  It also makes sense to hear Franciscus and Malden, the two main stars, voicing their native language.  Malden has a very distinctive voice.  I cannot decide whether or not I think that Catherine dubbed the English for her character.  In the first extended scene in which she appears, it sounds to me like it is probably her.  The accent and tone of the voice sound like her to me.  However, for the remainder of the film, it sounds to me like the voice is close, but the accent seems slightly less and the pitch of the voice slightly higher.  I am very curious to know the answer to this question and any story behind it.

2.  Am I watching the cut that received a "GP" rating upon release in the U.S.?  Keep in mind that a "GP" rating in 1971 was somewhere between a "PG" and a "PG-13" rating today.  It was not unusual to have some violence and some fleeting nudity in a "GP" movie of the early 70's, but the cut of the film that I watched would seem to be pushing the boundaries of that rating.  First, Catherine does her first full-on, here-they-are, well-lit topless scene.  It is not a long scene, but it is all out there and more than just fleeting.  Also, there are a number of murder scenes.  They are not particularly graphic as far as blood and gore goes, but they could certainly be considered disturbing for younger viewers.  The Blue Underground DVD runs right at 112 minutes, and the press-reviewed English-dubbed prints reviewed in 1971 list a 112-minute running time.  That would lead me to believe that they are the same print.  However, Catherine's topless scene could have been edited from the U.S. print without roughly 10 seconds affecting the running time and with no dialogue to affect the English dubbing.  Hopefully, I will eventually come across the answer to this question.

3.  Why did Catherine do the topless scene, since she had used body doubles for most of the nude scenes in The Libertine and all of her characters' nude scenes in Una ragazza piuttosto complicata and Con quale amore, con quanto amore, which were shot after The Libertine?  This is probably a question that only Catherine herself can answer.  My best guess is that such scenes were becoming more prevalent for many well-regarded actresses, and this film gave her a chance to work with Dario Argento on the follow-up effort to his directorial debut, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, which had proven very popular internationally and generated a lot of publicity.    

The U.S. pressbook has some interesting information, although some of the quotes attributed to Catherine sound more like studio-generated quotes.
  • One of the suggestions for newspaper columns says:  "Stunning international star, Catherine Spaak, who co-stars with Karl Malden and James Franciscus in the new suspense thriller, 'The Cat O'Nine Tails,' has carved out a second brilliant career.  What began as a hobby - writing original songs and singing them for her own enjoyment - has developed into a highly skilled professionalism, and she has already made several hit records in Italy."
  • There is an article focused on Catherine, called "Catherine Spaak, Star of New Mystery Thriller 'The Cat O'Nine Tails' says:  'I Wanted a Change of Roles.'  It quotes her as saying, "It's one of the most emotional and fascinating parts I've ever played - quite different than anything I've ever done before. ... I was especially interested in the role of the complex, introverted girl, daughter of the director of a scientific institute in which evolves an intricate plot filled with a new kind of intrigue.  In fact, a number of crimes are committed, one after the other.  A blind man and a reporter try to solve the enigma of these mysterious killings but death lies ready to ambush them.  It was a new feeling for me to be the heroine of something so dark, chillingly gloomy and so filled with hair-raising surprises."
  • The pressbook also suggests a "Fashion Tie-Up" line of promotion, stating "Gorgeous Catherine Spaak wears some way-out new styles in 'Cat O'Nine Tails.' Display stills with appropriate credits in boutique shop windows."
The U.S. pressbook indicates that radio interviews with Karl Malden and James Franciscus were available for promotion, as well as trailers, TV spots, and radio ads.  All of these items are included as extras on the Blue Underground DVD and Blu-Ray releases for the film.  That is the version that I viewed and that I would recommend for U.S. viewers.  There is another version floating around from a different company, but it is significantly edited.  In the radio interviews, Franciscus briefly mentions Catherine, merely stating that she was "very nice" and "very professional."  He also makes comments indicating that he was not too fond of the Italian way of movie-making.  It sounds like he preferred to work in Hollywood.  The Blue Underground release also includes a new interview with Dario Argento, Ennio Morricone, and two of the co-writers for the film.  Catherine is not mentioned in that interview segment.  Argento states that Cat O'Nine Tails is his least-favorite of the films that he has directed, because he thinks that it more formulaic than his other films.

Il gatto a nove code was filmed in Turin and Rome in the fall of 1970.  According to IMDB it premiered in Italy on February 11, 1971 and in the U.S. on May 21, 1971.
  • The August 12, 1970 Variety reported that Catherine would appear in "'The Cat Of Nine Tails' (despite the title it is not about violence), to start Aug. 20 in Turin, with an English soundtrack."
  • The September 16, 1970 Variety reported that Cat O'Nine Tails was "now in production in Rome with Karl Malden, James Franciscus and Catherine Spaak."
  • The September 30, 1970 Variety reported from Rome that "Cinzia de Carolis, the 10-year-old actress in Dario Argento's 'Cat of Nine Tails,' will be confirmed in Catholic Church this week and the entire cast, including Karl Malden...and Catherine Spaak will be present."
  • The October 14, 1970 Variety reported:  "'Cat' is in production now on Italian location and has a cast headed by Karl Maiden, James Franciscus and Catherine Spaak."  If further reported that production started October 1.
Variety reviewed the film on June 9, 1971, based on a May 29 viewing at the Agee II in New York of a 112 minute, English-dubbed version.   The review's subheading stated:  "Second suspenser by Italian director Dario Argento not likely to match his 'Birth With Crystal Plumage' b.o. despite major U.S. distrib handling.  For action dualers."  The review further stated:

"Opened practically cold on a showcase run, without a trade screening, National General Pictures evidently realized that this second suspenser by Dario Argento, who had something of a runaway success with 'The Bird With The Crystal Plumage" (but for another distributor), just didn't have it for the long U.S. haul.  Tossing it into the action hopper could quickly recoup NGP's investment.  Film doesn't enhance directing career of Argento or the acting careers of the two Yank headliners involved Karl Malden and James Franciscus.  ... 'Cat' is strong on murders and violence but short on script and acting. ... The cast tries hard but is generally unbelievable.  Some of the situations incite laughter rather than suspense.  Technically excellent, but strictly for the action dualers."

The NY Times was no more kind in its May 27, 1971 review, noting that "[o]nly blindly abject devotees of the whodunit should discover catnip in 'The Cat O'Nine Tails'."  Catherine was not mentioned in the review.

I do not yet have any information to address how the film performed at the box office, but I hope to revisit that aspect in a future update to this post.

Here is the U.S. trailer, along with a shorter TV spot:

Here is an Italian trailer:

Here are a couple of on-set photos of Catherine with Argento:

Italian posters:

Here are the front and back covers of the U.S. pressbook:

Here is a U.S. advertising herald:

A paperback book tie-in:

The U.S. One Sheet, Half Sheet, Insert, and 30 x 40 Posters (I have not seen the three sheet or 40 x 60 posters, nor have I seen any high rise standees that were available.):

The U.S. Lobby Card Set:

U.S.Mini-Lobby Cards (I only have images for 5 of the 8 in the set):

U.S. Stills (including some U.S. TV stills; the first one is one of my all-time favorite photos of Catherine):

Non-U.S. publicity photos and stills:

German posters and lobby cards:

A Spanish poster and a Mexican poster:

A French poster:

A Polish poster (from the archives at

A Yugoslavian poster:

A British quad poster, a U.K. newspaper ad from June 17, 1971, and a 1971 U.K. magazine ad:

An Australian daybill poster:

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