The blind Franco Arno (Karl Malden) is taking a nightly stroll with his young niece Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) when they pass by a car where a man sits discussing blackmail, with another man beside him. Later, when the two return home, Franco stares outside - even though he cannot see - although we certainly can; and what we see is the other, unseen man in the car get out of it and attack a night watchman, leaving his dead body to be found in a phone booth come morning. The attacker then goes to a medical complex that stands next to Franco's apartment; and this is when one of the workers at the building discovers the body in the phone booth and witnesses the shadow of the unseen man running away from the scene, unidentified. The man seems to have taken something from the facilities. The next morning, the murder makes it into the papers; and a reporter named Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) is investigating the break-in. We learn that nothing was supposedly taken from the building the night before from Professor Terzi, who also works at the institution.
But the killer understands that he/she must commit more murders in order to steer the attention of all parties interested from the attempted robbery. He/she begins with a Dr. Casoni, who thinks he knows who the killer is and intends to tell someone about it; but gets pushed in the way of an incoming train before he can go any further. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time but at the same time, there couldn't have been a better PLACE or TIME for this incident to occur; for a photograph is taken of him that reveals the hands which committed the act. Next, the photographer who is looking to develop his findings for the police shall meet his ghastly end at the hands of the killer, and the list goes on and on. The killer does not kill out of mere fury; there is almost always a connection. If you're caught in the web, you're in the way, and if you don't get out of it; then you'll have to forcefully exit this world.
This is a typical Dario Argento thriller; his second overall as well as the middle child of his "Animal Trilogy". But this being an earlier work of his, the graphic blood and violence of his 70's-80's offerings - which have more or less attributed to his high status amongst some of the greatest directors working in horror - is almost entirely absent from "The Cat o' Nine Tails", although the film is uncanny and still has a lot of the stylistic peculiarities of an Argento film. It has the intriguing whodunit story, the disadvantage of having too many characters and so little time to truly develop any of them, and some great scenes shot from the POV of the killer. It's not the most visually complex of Argento's films, but it remains probably the most underrated to this day; if only because it is seldom ever mentioned when you hear the name.
There are some good characters who show up later in the film and give it some more edge, such as the self-titled "Gigi the Loser" (Ugo Fangareggi) who is a friend of Carlo from time spent in jail, a love interest named Bianca (Rada Rassimov) who definitely knows more about the case than she's willing to admit and also was the fiancée of the doctor who got hit by the train, and the daughter of Professor Terzi by the name of Anna (Catherine Spaack). But alas, this is a not a character-driven thriller and they are more-so attitudes and caricatures; and the relationships forged between them can feel rather contrived at times.
But then again, this is still a really fantastic mood piece; another creative, unforgettable film from Argento to be sure. I treated it as more of an experience than a deep character study, although as always, Argento is able to craft a story that keeps the viewer's interest; like a good whodunit mystery rightfully should. Argento sites this as the least favorite of his films, although I don't know why when he's done so much worse in the new age. The camerawork is truly magnificent and Ennio Morricone's score is as unpredictable as the murder plot. It's a consistently engaging film that - for all its imperfections - still gets a very strong recommendation because, like the best of Argento's feature films, it really sticks with you. He populates it not with a great story or characters but instead great imagery and creative violence (although I'm afraid those looking for extreme decapitations of women will have to settle for more the tame wrangling of mostly men). I appreciate this film because it's different from most of Argento's other films; while still having the advantage of being older, smarter, and overall just better.