Well, this is a wonderful transfer from Blue Underground. We might not get much in the way of extras with this release, but fans should be over the moon with how the film looks on this Blu-ray. Quite simply, this looks stunning, folks.
Culled from the original camera negative, the print is striking, clean and fresh-looking. Occasionally, we get a wobble, but these only seem to stand out because of how otherwise dazzling this picture is. The encode, via AVC, is acutely detailed, sharp without being enhanced, very colourful and vibrant from start to finish. The 2.35:1 frame is breathtaking, making incredible use of the streets and rooftops of Rome and Turin and providing the many startling compositions that Argento creates with clarity and depth. There are plenty of views up and down streets that possess a keen sense of three-dimensionality, and the rooftop get-together in a scenic bar between Franciscus and Spaak looks wonderfully roomy and spacious within the frame. As Argento would prove time and time again, he was the master of crafting widescreen urban beauty.
The grain structure is intact, although I there are a couple of shots of Malden that you could initially take to have been slightly DNR'd. Close-up scrutiny reveals it have a sort of hard-edged and ice-chipped sparkle to it – the sort of texture that crippled Blue Underground's Django and City Of The Living Dead transfers by being horribly visible almost all the way through. But viewed properly, the effect on Cat is invisible. I blame myself for spotting this, of course. But if the image hadn't been so damn good as to invite me to press my nose up against the screen just to admire it, I would never have noticed. Detail is quite stunning at times. The close-ups of faces are incredibly strong – lots of crags, marks and wrinkles – and eyes contain enough detail to have you looking for the taint of red that one of the doctors insists resides in Carlo's otherwise baby-blues. Distant detail, such as the wonderful architecture, the cityscapes and the figures moving about in the recesses of the frame also have much integrity.
Colours are very strong and dynamic. They don't punch out with the sort of added vigour that would prove they had been boosted, either. Instead, the fidelity is nicely saturated and boasting that Euro-chic palette of the period. Skin-tones are quite remarkably natural-looking, too. Blood, when we see it, is not horribly garish in the way that some of Argento's films have presented it … but it still appears suitably bright and livid. There is no evidence of banding taking place, or smearing. Contrast is excellent, as are the substantial black levels that promote some terrifically atmospheric scenes during the night, or set down in the crypt. There are certainly deeper blacks to be savoured on other transfers, but the shadow-play, here, is nicely defined, with consistent depth and stability, and there is no crushing taking place within them. Whites refuse to bloom, and we get no hazy highlight flushes to characters' faces.
This is a great transfer that shows the source has been well looked-after. Argento's second feature film looks amazing on Blu-ray and gets a major thumbs-up from me. Thus, it gains a very strong 8 out of 10 … possibly 8.5!
Cat O' Nine Tails comes with two lossless options in English – DTS-HD MA 2.0 or mono. But there's not much that I can say about either of the two audio mixes that Blue Underground have supplied here. They simply do as they are told, nothing more, or less. For the record, I stuck with the 2.0 option.
They are clean and clear and don't suffer much in the way of time-related wear and tear. Dialogue is nicely presented, although clearly dubbed, so don't be surprised by that. Well, you'd be surprised it if wasn't, wouldn't you? Voices all have keen character and inflection, and there are no annoying drop in volume levels within the soundmix. Effects are happily bolstered in the time-honoured Italian-style. Impacts are exaggerated, such as the vicious smacks that Carlo gets in the face towards the end, and the punishing fists, knees and elbows that are brought into play later on have very agreeable, though unrealistic heft to them too. Noises off-camera during the creepy set-ups also work well, although they deeply embedded in the design and given no opportunity to surprise you with any form of directionality or steerage.
Morricone's score does well, with a nicely prioritised position within the mix. It is neither too loud and overbearing, or lost and muffled within the overall design. His weird off-kilter jazz-funk noodlings and vocal ululations come over very well.
I doubt we could have asked for more, if we are to be honest. Whilst I would have loved to have heard a full surround mix for Cat, it would have been bogus and would have run the risk of sounding too obvious and fake. Blue Underground have been wise to keep things clean and simple. And faithful. Which is how Cat O' Nine Tails sounds to me. With all this in mind, Cat O' Nine Tails gets a 7 out of 10. Authentic and un-messed-with.
Sadly, there isn't much to get our claws into here.
Tales of the Cat is cool enough little collection of interviews with Dario Argento, co-writer Dardano Sacchetti and the great Morricone, himself. Fans learn very little that they didn't already know, but it is nice to see these guys reminiscing about such an early collaboration, even if two of them are not exactly all that keen on the fruits of their labours. Actually, Argento seems a little bit more cheerful and articulate than he normally does in these little interview segments that we are used to seeing.
Perhaps a little better are two wonderful 8-minute-apiece radio interviews that we are offered from the time of the film's US release – one with James Franciscus and the other with Karl Malden. Franciscus is a little frank about the Italian way of doing things, but delivers a fine comment on his first production made in Europe, whilst Malden is even better value again. The older star covers a lot of ground and discusses his passion for movies, his dedication to each role he takes, the favourite parts that he has played over the years and his preparation for playing a blind man. Inexplicably, however, he divulges a major plot spoiler for the film, too, which was rather daft for him to do on the eve of its release. Both actors comes across as warm, articulate and enthusiastic. I just wish the interviews could have lasted a bit longer.
Blue Underground's disc is finished off with Theatrical Trailers, TV and Radio Spots for the film.
Yes, I would have liked more … but when UK's Arrow Video get around to releasing the film, I'm sure serious fans will find more to savour.
The Cat O' Nine Tails may not be essential Argento, but it is very good Argento, nevertheless. The plot revolves around a deadly secret that someone is prepared to kill for. Clues are scattered around the central characters as the bodies mount up, and the mystery only deepens as the story progresses, with red herrings, false trails and too many suspects. With murderer's POV shots, we become complicit in the death-dealing. Obsessional patterns emerge. And all the while, a seductive yet sinister score and sumptuous photography spike the senses. This is old school Giallo, performed by Italy's then-premier exponent of the form. It may not have the intensity of his supernatural shockers, the macabre invention of Deep Red or the shocking violence of Tenebrae, but Cat O 'Nine Tails weaves a plot that is never boring and contains some wonderful set-pieces, as well as one of the director's most sustained and exciting finales.
Plus, we've James Franciscus and Karl Malden stepping into Italian designer shoes and going through their paces, Spaghetti-style. Dario Argento has courted some big stars throughout his career, but to have bagged these two so early on was definitely a sign that he was doing something right. Something that the world was sitting up to take notice of. Both actors are excellent here, and really anchor this tale of Tails.
Blue Underground do Argento's lush-looking thriller justice with a tremendous transfer that looks incredibly fresh and vibrant and a joy to watch. It is a pity that some more extras could not have been obtained – a commentary track would have been more than welcome. But the little asides that we do get are still worthwhile.
All in all, Cat-fans can lap this up with the distinct pleasure of watching a sure-fire psycho-thriller done in that inimitable Argento style. One of the auteur's most accessible films hits Blu-ray with gusto.
I'm sure that another version of the film will surface on the format from the UK but, for now, this is sure to keep collectors happy. Recommended.
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