The Crimes of the Black Cat (1972) poster

The Crimes of the Black Cat (1972)


(Sette Scialli di Seta Gialla)

Italy. 1972.


Director – Sergio Pastore, Screenplay – Alessandro Continenza, Sergio Pastore & Giovanni Simomenlli, Producer – Edmondo Amati, Photography – Guglielmo Mancori, Music – Manuel De Sica, Special Effects – Eugenio Ascani, Set Design – Alberto Boccianti. Production Company – Capitolina Produzioni Cinematografiche s.r.l..


Anthony Steffen (Peter Oliver), Shirley Corrigan (Margot), Giacomo Rossi Stuart (Victor Morgan), Sylva Koscina (Francoise Ballais), Renato De Carmine (Inspector Jansen), Jeannette Len (Susan Leclerc), Umberto Raho (Burton), Annabella Incontrera (Helga), Isabella Marchall (Paola Whitney), Romano Malaspina (Harry)


The blind concert pianist Peter Oliver goes to a restaurant to meet his girlfriend, model Paola Whitney, but she has left a note saying she wants to break things off with him. While seated at the table, Peter partially overhears a conversation at an adjoining booth between a woman in a white hooded coat, who is pleading with another person, and becomes fascinated. Paola is then killed in her dressing room at the modelling studio. This involves a black cat and a yellow shawl left at the scene. The police investigate, suspecting the studio’s head Victor Morgan who was having an affair with Paola before she started to blackmail him. Peter begins his own investigation, following the trail of the woman in the white coat. At the same time, the killer begins to eliminate other models.

The giallo film was a genre that emerged in Italy in the 1960s, popularised by Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace (1964). The giallo is a form of psycho-thriller that places an emphasis on sado-sexual deaths and extravagant stylistic effects. (A more detailed listing of the genre can be found here at Giallo Films). At the time that The Crimes of the Black Cat was made, Dario Argento had just entered the scene with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970). The Crimes of the Black Cat was a title imposed on the film by the US distributor – the original Italian title translates as the more exotic sounding Seven Shawls of Yellow Silk.

Director Sergio Pastrore had a very minor career between the 1960s and his death in 1987, delving into typical Italian genres of the era including the Spaghetti Western, adventure and comedy. Indeed, of these, The Crimes of the Black Cat is the only film that has any reputation. Pastore did make one other giallo with his second-to-last film, the little seen Delitti (Crimes) (1987).

The film comes with a sensational opening. Blind pianist Anthony Steffen goes to a restaurant only to find his date has cancelled on him. While sitting there, he overhears a conversation from a man and a woman in the booth behind him but only gleans partial phrases before this is drowned out as another girl turns on the jukebox to dance. We see the woman from the conversation exiting, exotically dressed in a white coat with hood and wearing a gaudy jewelled eye pendant, while Steffen is reduced to asking the waiter to describe her before she is gone.

Jeannette Len as the mystery woman in the white coat in The Crimes of the Black Cat (1972)
Jeannette Len as the mystery woman in the white coat

All of these seem classical tropes from Dario Argento’s giallo films of the era – the blind man overhearing essential clues is taken directly from The Cat O’Nine Tails (1971), while the half-heard or seen clues come from The Cat O’Nine Tails and in particular The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. The setting of a studio filled with plentiful models, most of whom get to be undressed at various throughout, is a variant on the fashion house setting of Blood and Black Lace. As with much of the other giallo films of the era, there are gaudy colour schemes – the mystery woman all in white; a murder taking place at a photographer’s studio where a knife tears apart a scarlet red screen; the killer in black leather gloves who leaves yellow shawls at the crime scene.

The psycho-thriller plot is tried and true for the genre – the killer whose identity could be selected at random from among the character line-up; the contorted psychology offered as explanation to do with the killer’s secret disfigurement. The plotting that gets there is improbable – it is never, for instance, made clear why the killer has to take a black cat with them to each murder scene.

The abovementioned opening scene in the restaurant is the best in the film and none of the subsequent scenes or any of the murders are as inspired. Sergio Pastore does however find another such sequence towards the end of the film where blind Anthony Steffen is led through a factory and avoids nearly falling into a pit; is lured along a walkway as an industrial claw arm swings from above trying to knock him over; and is finally left clinging by his fingertips from a conveyor belt.

Trailer here

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