Fifth Cord, The (1971)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-05-24 01:00

Written by: Luigi Bazzoni, Mario di Nardo, Mario Fanelli, and David McDonald Devine (novel)
Directed by: Luigi Bazzoni
Starring: Franco Nero, Silvia Monti and Wolfgang Preiss

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

“I am going to commit murder...I can imagine the thrill and pleasure I will experience as I stalk my victim."

Luigi Bazzoni was not the most prolific Italian director, having only directed five features in the span of a decade before returning 20 years later to direct a documentary; two of those features were westerns, and two were gialli films. Coming fresh of the heels of Argento’s Bird With The Crystal Plumage, the bizarrely titled Fifth Cord might indicate that we may have been robbed of a true talent whose output shouldn’t have been so limited. This is not to say The Fifth Cord is exactly a revelatory giallo--it’s still plagued with a watery, nonchalant plot that never quite pays off--but it is an especially moody exercise in style and execution that’s anchored by a towering central performance by Franco Nero.

He’s a journalist that’s had a few bouts with the bottle, but this doesn’t stop him from investigating a series of murders centered around a New Year’s Eve party. Given that he was plastered at the time, Nero himself can’t quite recall the events of the evening, and his various associated end up ensnared in the plot, including a former lover, his current mistress, and the latter’s brother (among others). Even Nero himself finds himself the target of the police investigation, and, given how he slowly becomes unhinged as more murders unfold.

The Fifth Cord is another giallo that throws a lot of names and faces at you and it weaves its sleazy tapestry. And it’s an especially sleazy one at that, as Nero’s investigation eventually leads him to an underground sex racket that apparently includes minors. This is a weird tangent that doesn’t do much except to cast suspicion on those involved--if they’re perverse enough to do this, they may also commit murder, or at least that’s the case that’s seemingly made. But at least there is a case made there, as The Fifth Cord doesn’t make many; most of those names and faces are involved, but only a handful emerge as suspects, including Nero himself.

Nero is rather fantastic here and is such a commanding presence that he subjugates everyone else into the background. It feels like he spends the entire movie on a bender, fuelled by both booze and his own desperation to prove everyone wrong. That chip on his shoulder is almost visible and maybe even a little off-putting at times, especially when it leads him to slap around that mistress of his. However, it only takes a few seconds and he’s back in bed frolicking with her, which says all you need to know about this film’s “boys will be boys” mentality and Nero’s ability to drum up a certain amount of likeability in this scoundrel who may or may not actually be the killer here. Still, you have to kind of admire a guy who’ll freely admit he doesn’t have an alibi because he was too wasted on the night in question.

Since its mystery isn’t exactly tightly wound, The Fifth Cord ends up skating by on the strength of its overbearing style. Bazzoni’s camera is rarely still, as he prefers to have it constantly roving about his sets, prowling and peeking in on the inhabitants. While this doesn’t always indicate a POV shot, it similarly allows us fluidly roam around, which renders this a silky giallo whose camerawork smoothes over its coarse narrative. Bazzoni receives an assist from Vittorio Storaro’s evocative cinematography; Stotaro (who was likely tapped for this due to his work on Crystal Plumage) envelopes the frame in moody shadows and deep blue lighting. There are a few instances that look to feature day-for-night shooting that are especially ethereal, and the climactic sequence is awesomely silhouetted against a moonlit sky that floods the interiors.

The film’s style lends itself to the scenes that truly matter as well; most giallo fans are keenly aware that the effectiveness of these films hinges on the wild twists and the murders, and The Fifth Cord at least delivers on the latter. While these sequences aren’t overly gruesome or even all that imaginative, they’re captured with ferocity; a vicious rawness punctuates many of the scenes, which often carry suspenseful setups. An early sequence finds a paralyzed woman crawling about her room--her decision to leave her bed is befuddling to be sure, but it’s typical giallo logic that only serves to result in a murder, so you kind of have to go with it. As he often did, Ennio Morricone provides the soundtrack to these deaths, though this score is a bit more subdued and relaxed than usual, with silence actually taking over to suffocate the proceedings every now and then. Some creepy moments between the murders also keep things afloat; for example, our killer is so brazen that he records his desires to kill and even taunts his future victims on the phone.

The Fifth Cord can’t quite deliver on the expected twists; its plot is a bit more a straight shot than most so it’s easy to follow, but the payoff is typical psychosexual stuff that requires some more untangling in the form of some off-hand dialogue that explains how it all ties together (in short: it doesn’t really). Despite this, the film has me interested in the rest of Bazzoni’s sparse filmography, particularly his other giallo, the ludicrously titled Footprints on the Moon. I’ve heard a lot of oddball titles for these things in my day, but that one might be the most outrageous (and, yes, I will likely be disappointed if it doesn’t end up being a giallo set in space or something). Blue Underground’s DVD treatment of The Fifth Cord isn’t among their most robust in terms of extras (there’s only a trailer and a couple of interviews with Nero and Stotaro), but their presentation is fine and boasts a vibrant, restored transfer and an English mono track that could actually benefit from subtitles every now and then (Franco’s dialog is especially muffled at times). With gialli, you can perhaps do a little bit better than The Fifth Cord, but you can also do much, much worse; packed with gorgeous women, black gloves, and memorable murders, it gets more right than wrong. Buy it!

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