Country: ITALY/FRANCE/WEST GERMANY
Il gatto a nove code
History hasn’t been kind to Dario Argento’s second feature film The Cat O’ Nine Tails. It hasn’t helped that Argento himself has been quick to dismiss the film as his least favourite, though Argento has also gone on record saying his favourite film is the 1985 debacle Phenomena. It’s abundantly clear from this that Argento isn’t the best judge of his own work. The real problem for The Cat O’ Nine Tails is that it has never been able to fully emerge from the looming shadow of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Argento’s debut feature. The third film in the so called ‘Animal Trilogy’ Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) has succeeded in standing on its own feet largely because of its utterly bizarre distribution history, and its standing as something of a ‘lost’ cult classic. But The Cat O’ Nine Tails has always been a very visible Argento title, one that has been easy too acquire, and one that was very successful during its release in 1971. There is no doubt that it is a pale shadow of the startlingly fresh and vital The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, a film which was both a document of Argento’s personal obsessions and a brilliant exercise in suspense driven plot mechanics. But the perceived Americanisation of The Cat O’ Nine Tails (Argento’s most common grumble is both the films American sensibility and its lack of a personal identity) is actually what makes it stand out in Argento’s filmography. It has a feel and style unlike any of his pictures, and instead of dismissing the film for this, perhaps we should celebrate it.
© Shaun Anderson 2012