Hollywood@Home: The Cat o’ Nine Tails (Il Gatto a Nove Code)

Karl Malden plays a blind puzzle maker in the 1971 mystery thriller, “The Cat o’ Nine Tails.”

“The Cat o’ Nine Tails” is Dario Argento’s 1971 follow-up to “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” and a perfectly acceptable entry into the giallo genre that Argento is credited with popularizing decades ago. Giallo films are guilty pleasures to lovers of Italian cinema and feature murder mystery elements, blood and sex. They often play like American TV cop shows, but with content that could never make it onto broadcast television.

Two American actors, both who have played detectives in ABC television shows, star in “Il Gatto a Nove Code,” as it’s known in Italy: Karl Malden (“Streets of San Francisco”) and James Franciscus (“Longstreet”). Malden plays Franco “Cookie” Arnò, a blind puzzle maker who overhears a blackmail scheme that leads to murder. Franciscus is an investigative reporter looking into the murder. It’s amusing to note that Franciscus was playing a blind insurance investigator in “Longstreet” at about the same time this film was released. But, of course, Malden is the sightless one in “The Cat o’ Nine Tails.”

Carlo Giordani (Franciscus) meets Franco during the investigation of a break-in at a local medical complex, the Terzi Institute. The first murder victim is a researcher at the institute looking into a “chromosome alteration” that could help society identify criminals before they ever commit a crime. Carlo and Franco decide to work together to solve the crime. Later, Franco’s young niece (Cinzia De Carolis) comes into play when she’s kidnapped by the killer. The ultimate showdown between the visually impaired Franco and the man or woman behind the murders is when we learn the killer’s identity. There are some clues along the way, but I found “The Cat o’ Nine Tails” works well as a whodunit.

If case you’re wondering about the title, it has nothing to do with felines or multi-tailed whips. It’s a reference to the number of leads that police are following during the murder investigations. There is a large body count.

“Il Gatto a Nove Code” is no “Murder on the Orient Express.” It’s an average-quality giallo for those who like the exaggerated acting styles and sometimes incomprehensible plot points that season the genre. Argento is quoted as saying this wasn’t his favorite film creation. Well, never mind that. I like Malden and Franciscus and it’s fun watching them fight for justice in an Italian murder mystery. Grade: C+

James Franciscus (“Beneath the Planet of the Apes” and TV’s “Longstreet)” stars in the Italian mystery thriller, “The Cat o’ Nine Tails,” just out in a limited Blu-ray edition.