The Cat o' Nine Tails

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The Cat o' Nine Tails
Italian theatrical release poster
Directed by Dario Argento
Produced bySalvatore Argento [1]
Screenplay byDario Argento
Story by
Music by Ennio Morricone [2]
Cinematography Enrico Menczer [2]
Edited by Franco Fraticelli [2]
  • Mondial Te.Fi.
  • Seda Spettacoli S.p.A.
  • Labrador Films
  • Terra-Filmkunst GmbH [2]
Distributed byConstantin Film Verleih GmbH (Germany) [2]
Release date
  • February 11, 1971 (1971-02-11)(Italy)
  • July 15, 1971 (1971-07-15)(West Germany)
  • August 11, 1971 (1971-08-11)(France)
Running time
112 minutes
  • Italy
  • France
  • West Germany [2]
Box office 2.4 billion

The Cat o' Nine Tails (Italian : Il gatto a nove code) is a 1971 giallo film written and directed by Dario Argento, adapted from a story by Dardano Sacchetti, Luigi Cozzi, and an uncredited Bryan Edgar Wallace. [4] It stars Karl Malden, James Franciscus, and Catherine Spaak. [5]


Although it is the middle entry in Argento's so-called "Animal Trilogy" (along with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Four Flies on Grey Velvet ), the "cat o' nine tails" does not directly refer to a literal cat, nor to a literal multi-tailed whip; rather, it refers to the number of leads that the protagonists follow in the attempt to solve a murder.

Though unsuccessful in Europe, it was acclaimed in the United States. Argento admitted in the book Broken Mirrors, Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento that he was less than pleased with the film, and has repeatedly cited it as his least favorite of all of his films. [6]


An unknown individual breaks into the Terzi Medical Institute but apparently takes nothing. Calabresi, one of the Institute doctors, confides to his fiancée, Bianca Merusi, that he knows who broke into the Institute and why. He attempts to blackmail the individual, but the thief pushes him in front of an arriving train, killing him. A paparazzi photographer captures Calibresi's fall, but not the killer, on film.

Reporter Carlo Giordani has been covering the break-in investigation and writes an article about Calabresi's death, including the photo. Franco "Cookie" Arnò, a middle-aged blind man who himself was once an ace reporter, and his niece Lori visit Carlo after reading the article. Franco has a hunch that the newspaper photo was cropped, and a call to the photographer confirms this. However, after they ask the photographer to print the entire picture, someone strangles him to death. The killer takes the photo and all the negatives before Carlo, Franco, and Lori arrive.

Carlo, impressed with Franco, lets him assist his investigation. Discussing the case, they observe there are nine leads: the five remaining Institute scientists (Mombelli, Esson, Casoni, Braun, and director Terzi), Terzi's daughter Anna, Bianca (Calabresi's fiancée), the original break-in, and the missing photographs. They joke that the case is like a Cat o' nine tails, and resolve to follow each tail.

Carlo interviews Anna, who reveals that the Institute has been researching "XYY syndrome." Their study suggests that people with the XYY chromosome have a "criminal tendency." Meanwhile, Franco and Lori meet with Bianca, who provides no additional information, but Lori remarks to Franco that Bianca was nervously fingering a locket as she spoke.

That night, Bianca searches Calabresi's car and finds a note detailing the thief/killer's identity. She hides the note in her locket. Bianca returns to her apartment, where the killer, who has been following her, strangles her. The killer searches her but cannot find the note, which is hidden in the locket.

Carlo and Franco continue investigating, despite receiving a threatening note from the killer. Carlo speaks with other Institute doctors. Dr. Mombelli reveals that everyone at the Institute submitted blood samples to be tested for the XYY research, while Dr. Casoni speculates that testing for XYY may become a method for crime prevention. That night, Carlo and Franco both avoid separate attempts to kill them.

Franco tells Carlo that Bianca must have been killed because the killer suspected she had evidence, and, remembering Lori mentioning Bianca's locket, he speculates the evidence may be in the locket. They discover that Bianca was buried with the locket, so they go to her family crypt and search her coffin. Inside the locket, they find the folded note, but before they can read it, the killer shuts the crypt door, locking Carlo inside and attacking Franco outside. The killer takes the note, but Franco stabs him with his sword cane, causing the killer to flee. The killer calls Franco and Carlo, revealing that he has kidnapped Lori and will kill her unless they stop investigating. Knowing that the killer will kill Lori regardless, they call the police.

Franco, Carlo and the police rush to the Terzi Institute to search for Lori, but they cannot find her. Carlo follows a trail of blood to the roof and finds Casoni, the killer, still bleeding from Franco's attack. Casoni prepares to stab the bound and gagged Lori, but Carlo leaps in front of her and is stabbed in the shoulder. The police arrive on the roof and chase Casoni. Franco stops him with his cane blade; Casoni confesses that he originally broke in to replace the records that showed he tested positive for the XYY chromosome. When Franco asks about Lori, Casoni lies to Franco that he killed her. Enraged, Franco knocks him through a skylight and down an elevator shaft to his death, as a now-free Lori calls out for Franco.



Dario Argento and Dardano Sacchetti together mapped out the plot for The Cat o' Nine Tails, and split the writing of the screenplay between them. [7] However, because the production was set up on the basis of the first 40 pages of the script, and those pages were all written by Argento, Argento demanded that he receive sole screenplay credit. Being credited for story alone meant a substantial pay cut for Sacchetti, so this set off a bitter and publicized dispute between Sacchetti and Dario and Salvatore Argento (the film's producer, and Dario's father). [7]

The Cat o' Nine Tails was shot between September and October 1970. [8] The film was shot on location in Berlin, Turin, and at Cinecitta Studios in Rome. [8]


The Cat o' Nine Tails was released in Italy on February 11, 1971. [9] International releases included the United States in May 1971, West Germany on July 15, 1971 where it was distributed by Constantin [2] and in France on August 11, 1971 where it was distributed by Wild Side. [8] [10]

On its release in Italy in 1971, the film grossed a total of 2.4 billion Italian lire. [11] [12]

Critical reception

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, The Cat o' Nine Tails currently holds an approval rating of 82% based on 22 critic reviews, with an average rating of 6.5 out of 10. The site's critical consensus reads, "The Cat O'Nine Tails is a solidly entertaining Argento outing elevated by a well-chosen cast and the director's distinctive visual style." [13] On Metacritic, the film currently has a weighted average score of 63 out of 100 based on 5 critic reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews". [14]


  1. Shipka, p. 102.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 "Die neunschwänzige Katze". . Retrieved November 26, 2015.
  3. Paul 2005, p. 63.
  4. "Cat o' Nine Tails". Electric Sheep. 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2017-04-12.
  5. Luther-Smith,Adrian (1999). Blood and Black Lace: The Definitive Guide to Italian Sex and Horror Movies. Stray Cat Publishing Ltd. p. 20
  6. DiVincenzo, Alex (27 January 2011). "Dario Argento's The Cat o' Nine Tails coming to Blu-ray - Horror Movie News | Arrow in the Head". Retrieved 6 August 2012.
  7. 1 2 Lucas, Tim (2007). Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark. Video Watchdog. p. 848. ISBN   978-0-9633756-1-2.
  8. 1 2 3 "Il Gatto a nove code" (in French). Retrieved November 26, 2015.
  9. Gallant 2000, p. 274-276.
  10. Klain, Jane, ed. (1989). International Motion Picture Almanac for 1989 (60 ed.). Quigley Publishing Company, Inc. p. 416. ISBN   0-900610-40-9.
  11. Curti 2017, p. 253.
  12. Curti 2017, p. 327.
  13. The Cat o' Nine Tails at Rotten Tomatoes
  14. The Cat o' Nine Tails at Metacritic

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  • Curti, Roberto (2017). Riccardo Freda: The Life and Works of a Born Filmmaker. McFarland. ISBN   978-1476628387.
  • Gallant, Chris (2000). Art of Darkness: The Cinema of Dario Argento. FAB Press. ISBN   1903254078.
  • Shipka, Danny (14 June 2011). Perverse Titillation: The Exploitation Cinema of Italy, Spain and France, 1960-1980. McFarland, 2011. ISBN   978-0786448883.
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