Blind Tuesday: Seeing-Eye Cat

Somebody is killing fashion models in Amsterdam — ever wondered why models are paid so highly? Because they’re always getting murdered.

Rejected from Forgotten Gialli, CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT winds up in Blind Tuesday (our occasional feature on blind-person-in-jeopardy thrillers), just because it’s made me rather cross. At the core of the film is a rather darling conceit, a killer using a black cat as assassin, its claws coated with deadly curare. The delightful absurdity of this idea — ever tried getting a cat to do anything? what happens when kitty washes her paws? and also, just WHY? — is rather stifled by the wrapping around of the entire plot and all the set-pieces from 23 PACES TO BAKER STREET.

Stealing is inevitable, and largely to be encouraged, in the arts, but there are times when it is to be condemned. The shot-for-shot lifting of the love scene from DON’T LOOK NOW in ABOUT LAST NIGHT… is one of them (why remind the audience, so forcibly, that Demi Moore is not Julie Christie and Rob Lowe is not Donald Sutherland [or vice versa] or that Edward Zwick does not even share a species with Nic Roeg?). This is another.

The rule is that stealing is good when it makes things better, but that holds it to a high standard — the artwork must be better than it would have been without the theft, but also better than it would have been with something original of an adequate standard. Ideally, the theft should be the kind whereby, if the viewer recognizes the source, pleasure is increased (“How clever!”) rather than spoiled (“What a blatant swipe!”)…

In the case of CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT, it’s to be condemned because it’s lazy and unimaginative, and because it doesn’t help the film, it actually constrains it. The effect is to break the thing in two, so that Anthony Steffen (rather good and sepulchral as the sightless hero) and his investigations seem to occupy a whole other movie from the bout of silly killings.

The big adaptation is to make the hero not a playwright who uses a tape recorder to practice his dialogue, but a film composer (who can’t see the film — how does THAT work?). This allows for a giallo-within-the-giallo, which is par for the course in this compulsively self-reflective genre. Graphic close-ups of breast-slicing in this embedded movie are far more horrible than anything in the main body of the narrative, until the ending, when director Sergio Pastore goes all vicious again, and we can guess that the killer is a woman. You see, whenever the killer does something truly nasty and misogynistic, you can be fairly sure he’ll turn out to be a woman (dishonorable exception: IGUANA WITH A TONGUE OF FIRE, where he’s gay) . It’s a kind of alibi instinct, to deflect the filmmaker’s own guilt.*

This is, on the whole, the kind of giallo that makes me not like the genre. It’s a field which triumphs when it unlocks its imagination, and there’s something deeply tedious about all these black-gloved killers. I think that’s the true explanation for the decline of Dario Argento: he’s become bored by his own tropes, and God forbid that he should ever examine them critically for signs and meaning. Mario Bava, God love him, wasn’t inclined to introspection either, but he felt compelled to explore every genre on offer, even those like the sexy-type-film which he instinctively disliked. It’s because he didn’t view himself as an artist that he experimented so much, making him kind of (but only kind of) the Keaton to Argento’s Chaplin.

Hey, another strange thing. The woman with the killer cat operates out of a pet shop called, according to its sign, UNDULATER. Why would a pet shop be called UNDULATER? And if you ran a pet shop called UNDULATER, wouldn’t that cause a fair bit of confusion (especially in Amsterdam)?**

*The other bit of giallo cowardice: if the killer is a priest, he will soon be unmasked or unfrocked as a bogus priest. Most of these movies are deeply conservative at heart.

**Stop press: W Krikken suggests,via Twitter, that the setting is Copenhagen. I think that is correct. Still, makes the possibilities for misconstruing UNDULATOR even richer, if anything.

In other news: Limerwreckage — Carradine rhymes again!

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19 Responses to “Blind Tuesday: Seeing-Eye Cat”

  1. You know, I thought models were paid so much to keep them in nice clothes, heroin, and plastic surgery.

    Maybe the pet store started by specializing in snakes! With the number of people I know with pet pythons, it could happen.

  2. Copenhagen seems a hostile climate for serpentry, though. And if they have plenty of snakes on hand, why do they have to apply poison to a harmless kitty?

  3. Given that an undulator is a device used in high-energy physics, and the film is set in Copenhagen, could it be something to do with Niels Bohr?

  4. It’s not a black cat, but it IS a terror.

  5. And by the way, sorry you didn’t like THE CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT or THE IGUANA WITH THE TONGUE OF FIRE – as both are in my top 20 gialli!

  6. I was warned off Iguana, but liked it more than I thought I would. The bad qualities were mostly good fun and the good qualities were unexpected. Crimes of the Black Cat had some fun stylistic touches but it’s HUGELY derivative — as crassly done as those Bollywood versions of Lethal Weapon or the Turkish Star Wars. They just happen to have picked a less-familiar film to rip off. DO see 23 Paces to Baker Street if you get the chance.

  7. Mwahaha, I know 23 PACES like the back of my hand, David – it was a childhood teatime VHS favourite of mine. What’s more, I was the one who told you about CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT ripping it off (http://dcairns.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/cornier-transplant/).

  8. Ha!

    Do you know Closed Circuit?

  9. CORTOCIRCUITO (1943)? Unfortunately not. But it gets a mention on my giallo list (http://mubi.com/lists/giallology-1962-2009).

  10. No, I meant Circuito Chiuso (1978), a made-for-TV oddity that isn’t really giallo at all but can beneficially be discussed as a related subject. I’d like to see the 1943 flick though!

  11. Never heard of that one. It sounds most intriguing! ;)

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