A newsman (James Franciscus) works with a blind puzzle-solver (Karl Malden) to catch a killer with mixed-up chromosomes.
The Cat o Nine Tails (Italian: Il gatto a nove code) is a 1971 Italian giallo film written and directed by Dario Argento.
Although it is the middle entry in Argentos so-called "Animal Trilogy" (along with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Four Flies on Grey Velvet), the titular "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 successful in Europe, it was dismissed 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. In fact the director often cites it as his least favorite of his films.
Franco Arno (Karl Malden) a middle-aged blind man is walking down a street at night with his niece Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) when they pass by a man in a car. Franco overhears him mention blackmail. They walk back to Francos apartment nearby and while Lori sleeps, Franco works on a puzzle when he hears a noise. Outside, the unseen man in the parked car gets out and knocks out a night watchman by the gate of a large medical complex, the Terzi Institute. The unseen man uses a screwdriver to get inside the building. A doctor preparing to leave for the night sees the night watchman unconscious and sees a dark figure running away.
The next day, the police arrive at the Terzi Institute investigating the break-in. Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) arrives and bumps into Franco outside the institute. Carlo introduces himself and says that hes a reporter investigating the break-in. Meanwhile, Dr. Calabresi (Carlo Alighiero) looks at his files in his office and phones someone and agrees to meet with him. Calabresi tells his fiancee Bianca Merusi (Rada Rassimov) that he knows who broke into the institute and what was taken, but he does not wish to tell anyone yet, saying it could mean a "big step forward". At a local train station, while a group of reporters are waiting for a celebrity starlet to arrive from an arriving train, the unseen man approaches Calabresi and pushes him onto the tracks as the train arrives.
The next day, Franco and Lori are at home when Lori reads the newspaper for Franco about the "accidental death" of Dr. Calabresi. She describes the picture and says that Carlo Giordani wrote the article. The two of them go to see the reporter at the newspaper office and Franco asks if the picture has been cropped. Carlo calls Righetto (Vittorio Congia) the paparazzi photographer who snapped the picture at the last second and he goes back to the original and sees a moving hand-arm in the far left of the frame. As Righetto prepares to print the photograph, he is strangled to death with a cord. The unseen killer takes the photo and all the negatives and leaves just seconds before Carlo, Franco, and Lori arrive. Carlo goes inside the apartment and finds the body. Carlo sends Franco and Lori away and calls the police. The investigating officer, Spimi (Pier Paolo Capponi), asks questions to Carlo about the "maniac". Later, Carlo looks through a pair of binoculars at the people leaving the Terzi Institute and describes the doctors to Franco as they leave who are Mombell, Esson, Casoni, and Braun, as well as Terzi and his daughter Anna (Catherine Spaak).
Carlo goes to the Terzi home and he expresses his desire to talk about Calabresis "accident". Afterwards, Carlo speaks with Anna, and he evades her questions of what he and her father spoke about. The two of them drive away together and Anna drives in full speed to evade a car with two detectives following them. Meanwhile, Franco and Lori go to talk with Bianca, and she says apologetically that she could not find anything in the house relating to her fiances death. After they leave, Franco asks Lori what he kept hearing while they were talking, and Lori says it was a chain and locket around her neck and that Bianca was fidgeting with it.
Elsewhere, Carlo and Anna talk over drinks at a local restaurant where she tells them about the institutes research of "chromosome alteration" and "XYY", the extra Y producing a "criminal tendency" in a person. Carlo then goes to see Dr. Braun at the St. Peters Club and he talks to the doctor about someone being after the institutes secret drug. Braun does not seem vexed.
Bianca takes a taxi to Calabresis parked car in a lot. Inside, she finds a tiny note with an appointment time at the station (and an unseen name) written down. She tapes the note to the inside of her locket. Bianca then calls Franco and says she knows who killed Calabresi, but she will only tell him in person. As Bianca walks down the hallway of her apartment building to return to her apartment, the unseen killer attacks and strangles her with a cord. The killer rummages through her purse, but does not find anything.
Franco shows Carlo a note he received in which the killer threatens the "puzzle solver" and the "journalist" or more people will die. Carlo talks to Franco that he found out that two of the doctors, Casoni, being fired from his last job, and Braun having received a lot of money. Carlo goes to see Casoni and the doctor talks about the institutes "wonder drug" and the "XYY pattern". Carlo then asks Dr. Mombell about XYY, and the doctor says that everyone in the institute was tested, but their results are confidential.
The unseen killer approaches Carlos front door and injects two milk cartons, dropped off by the local milkman, with a syringe. A little later, Carlo arrives home and brings the milk cartons inside. Anna arrives shortly thereafter and they talk about more about the research and of her results of the XYY test. Their talk leads to a kiss and they end up having sex. Afterwards, Carlo pours himself and Anna a glass of milk from one of the cartons when Franco phones saying that someone tampered with the gas line on his stove, flooding his apartment with methane gas and also may try to kill Carlo. Carlo notices the milk that had bled from the cartons from the hypodermic needle holes and knocks the glass away from Anna before she can drink it. Carlo smells and tastes the milk and deduces that it has been poisoned.
The following day, Carlo meets with one of his old friends and informants, named Gigi the Loser (Ugo Fangareggi) (so-named since he spent time in prison), for help in investigating the Terzi break-in which may have been an inside job. Carlo and Gigi break into Terzis house and discover that Anna is adopted and (via a diary) that Terzi apparently "adored" the woman. Carlo then goes to the police station and learns from Spimi that Bianca often met with Braun and that the cops cannot find the doctor. Carlo then runs a story in the newspaper about Braun being a suspect in the break-in, and a former gay lover of Manuel (Brauns new lover) approaches Carlo and tells him where Braun is hiding. Carlo goes over to the apartment where he is attacked by Manuel. Carlo wins the fight, and sees Braun lying dead on the couch.
A few days later, Franco contacts Carlo where he recalls Biancas locket and suggests that the note that she found of the killers name might still be there. Franco and Carlo head to the cemetery and open Biancas family crypt. Carlo gets her coffin open while Franco waits by the door. Carlo finds the locket that was buried with Bianca, opens it, and discovers the note behind a metal plate and hands it to Franco. As Carlo closes the coffin, Franco shuts the crypt door, locking Carlo in. After spending a few minutes in the dark crypt, Franco opens the door again and walks inside without his dark sunglasses with a bruise on his face, and a large blade protruding from his walking cane thats speared with blood. Franco tells the reporter that he was attacked outside by the killer who told him that he has Lori as a captive, and was forced to give him the note. But Franco tells him that he managed to stab the killer with his cane. Meanwhile, Lori is hit on the head and put in the back of a car. Franco and Carlo find the taxi (which the killer and Lori rote) and discover blood in the back seat. The unseen killer then calls Franco and tells him that he will hold Lori for a while and to stop investigating the break in, and the murders.
Carlo goes to the police to report the kidnapping and they go to the Terzi house, and Anna comes down the stairs with cloth wrapped around her hand. Carlo tells her about the father-daughter "relationship" that he knows about and expresses suspicion about the milk incident (Anna had the glass of poisoned milk for some time without drinking it). But Anna claims that she only cut her hand on a broken vase and was nowhere near the cemetery which was just a few hours ago.
Carlo and the police arrive at the Terzi Institute and search the place for Lori whom Carlo suspects that the killer is one of the doctors, but they find nothing. As Carlo walks on a stairwell, he finds blood on his collar, and he thinks back to the room he just came from. He returns to the room and sees blood dripping from the ceiling. He climbs up to the roof and chases an unseen person. Then the unseen person turns around and it is Casoni who hits him in the face and kicks Carlo to the ground. Casoni, with a stab wound to his stomach, goes to a back room where a bound and gagged Lori is and prepares to stab her. Carlo runs in and tackles the killer, but gets stabbed in the chest. Just then the police arrive on the roof and chase Casoni, but he gets caught by Franco who stops him with his cane blade. Franco asks about Lori, and Casoni (deranged to the last) tells Franco that he killed her. Enraged, Franco swings his cane at Casoni who tries to run and pushes the deranged doctor through a sky window and he falls down an elevator shaft to his death, just as Lori calls out for Franco.James Franciscus as Carlo Giordani
Karl Malden as Franco Arno
Catherine Spaak as Anna Terzi
Pier Paolo Capponi as Police Supt. Spini
Horst Frank as Dr. Braun
Rada Rassimov as Bianca Merusi
Cinzia De Carolis as Lori
Aldo Reggiani as Dr. Casoni
Carlo Alighiero as Dr. Calabresi
Vittorio Congia as Righetto (cameraman)
Ugo Fangareggi as Gigi the Loser
Tom Felleghy as Dr. Esson
Emilio Marchesini as Dr. Mombelli
Fulvio Mingozzi as Spimis man
Corrado Olmi as Morsella
Pino Patti as Barber
The original U.S. theatrical release was cut by approximately 20 minutes. The version released by Anchor Bay is the complete 112-minute version.
A heavily edited 90-minute version also exists. This shortened print, which omits most of the violence and references to homosexuality, was released on VHS in the early 1990s.
The 2005 DVD release by Diamond Entertainment, as part of their "Slasher Collection", is listed on their box as being "fully restored" with a running time of 112 minutes. But the disc actually contains a poor quality pan and scan print, with over 20 minutes missing resulting in a running time of under 89 minutes. The print appears to be an old Warner Brothers edited television print with extensive additional footage missing.
On 24 October 2005 the Austrian company XT Video released a "Limited Uncut Integral-Version" DVD including the German dubbed version and the scenes which were not dubbed in a subtitled version. The DVD was released with three different covers.
The U.S. video release by JTC, Inc. had been cut down to 90 minutes. This was apparently done for no other purpose than to record the video at extended play on a T-30 videocassette.