The Fifth Cord
"I am going to commit murder. I am going to kill another human being. How easy it is to say! Already I feel like a criminal. I've been thinking it over for weeks, but now that I have given voice to my evil intention, I feel comfortably relaxed. Perhaps the deed itself will be an anticlimax... but I think not."
As the above monologue plays against a roving point of view shot of various urban yuppies gliding in and out of the frame, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were watching a Dario Argento film. Virtually every giallo released after 1970 owes something of a debt to his remarkable debut, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, but few of the films copying his visual style possessed anything approaching the same level of craftsmanship. That The Fifth Cord (Giornata Nera per l'Ariete, which translates as "Black Day of the Ram") could pass for a film made by the maestro himself is high praise indeed, and it is to the credit of its director, the elusive Luigi Bazzoni, that the film so perfectly captures the mood of Argento's "Animal Trilogy" without ever coming across as a slavish copy.
While walking home alone one night, schoolteacher John Lubbock (Maurizio Bonuglia) is viciously beaten by a mysterious attacker, saved in the nick of time by a young couple who overhear the assault. Irascible, heavy-drinking journalist Andrea Bild (Franco Nero) is asigned to the case, which takes on personal significance for him when he realises that a maniac is systematically murdering the guests of the same New Year party that he himself attended, seemingly with the intention of framing him. The only clues are a series of black gloves, left at the scene of each murder, each with one finger cut off...
That The Fifth Cord looks beautiful is an understatement. Lensed by Vittorio Storaro - he of Apocalypse Now fame who, appropriately enough, also shot The Bird with the Crystal Plumage - this is arguably the most visually stunning giallo ever committed to film. Eschewing the baroque architecture of most films of this sort, Bazzoni and Storaro stage their film against a highly geometric landscape, filled with angular lines and striking colours, with the night scenes especially foreseeing much of Argento's later work on his supernatural horror films, Suspiria and Inferno. The Fifth Cord's world is one that seems consciously artificial, and yet at the same time terribly real. Only some obvious day-for-night photography, which lumbers many of the nocturnal exteriors with overly bright skies and a decidedly blue tint, spoils the look of Storaro's masterful photography, and even these scenes have a certain appeal to them.
Where Bazzoni really shines, however, is when it comes to the scenes of high tension, of which there are many. The standout is undoubtedly a protracted sequence in which the crippled Sophia Bini (Rossella Falk), alone in her house, is reduced to crawling around on the floor as the killer advances. Others, involving the killer inducing a heart attack in one unfortunate victim and later cornering a helpless child at the end of a corridor, are also of note, while the protracted chase that leads up to the unmasking of the killer is exhilerating. By and large, though, this is a relatively leisurely giallo, with the finest moments generally coming from the intense mood that is allowed to slowly build up behind the scenes.
Bazzoni's film is not as good as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, though, and the reason for that is that its strengths lie almost entirely in the visual domain. The plot itself is not particularly remarkable, although as giallo scripts go it's actually fairly solid. It does, however, suffer from an over-indulgence in subplots which generally distract from the central mystery and mean that, besides Andrea, none of the many characters receive enough screen time to be allowed to develop. Indeed, even Andrea is something of an exercise in shorthand - the down-trodden alcoholic reporter is such a stock character that his persona is evident from the moment he steps on-screen. The fact that this rather unoriginal character rings true is thanks entirely to the always dependable Franco Nero, who, rather than adding extra dimensionality to role, goes for broke and plays right into the cliché. It works, partly because of Nero's strong screen presence and also because, like Sam Dalmas in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Roberto Tobias in Four Flies on Grey Velvet, we get the sense that we're not really supposed to like Andrea. The man is violent and self-centred, and treats his girlfriend rottenly. He does have principles, though ("I may have become a piece of shit, but you're what you were when you started: a bastard that sold his soul!"), and, watching him surrounded by all manner of degenerates, it's easy to see him as the lesser of two evils. On a side note, it also helps that, as usual, he provides his own voice for the English dub.
Nero may be the most magnetic personality in the film, but that's not to say that the rest of the cast are devoid of charisma. Indeed, the performances are decent all-round, with a troupe of the requisite beautiful giallo damsels adding flavour to this already heady mix. Silvia Monti (A Lizard in a Woman's Skin), Ira von Fürstenberg (Five Dolls for an August Moon), Agostina Belli (The Eroticist) and Pamela Tiffin (The Hallelujah Trail) all put in worthy performances, with Tiffin especially impressing as Andrea's nymphomaniac but underappreciated mistress. It's just a shame that none of them are given enough screen time for their characters to be developed or for their acting chops to be sufficiently tested. Still, this is clearly Nero's film, and one gets the impression that Bazzoni and the rest of the cast were aware of this, leaving him ample room to chew the scenery.
A masterfully executed giallo, The Fifth Cord may not boast the solidest of plots - indeed, the script is perhaps too convoluted for its own good - but it does showcase magnificent cinematography, and serves as an excellent star vehicle for the ever reliable Franco Nero, who shines in his only giallo role. It's too bad neither he nor Bazzoni made any more gialli, since both could easily have become legends in the genre.
The Fifth Cord is given a typical Blue Underground-style transfer, maintaining its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and boasting solid colours and encoding, but suffering from an over-abundance of edge enhancement and filtering. In all fairness, this is probably the best-looking of their four March 2006 giallo releases, although that probably has as much to do with Vittorio Storaro's remarkable photography as anything.
The only audio option available is the 2.0 mono English dub, but that in itself is not a problem, since, as mentioned previously, Franco Nero provided his own voice, and the secondary characters are generally dubbed with care (although the voice of Silvia Monti's young son is rather cringe-inducing). The track is of reasonable quality, although, as usual, constrained by the age of the materials used. Once again, there are no subtitles.
In addition to serving up the film's rather intriguing English-language theatrical trailer, Blue Underground have provided a 16-minute featurette entitled Giornata Nera. Luigi Bazzoni is conspicuously absent (apparently he doesn't like talking about his films in public), but both Franco Nero and Vittorio Storaro are on hand to provide plenty of anecdotes both about the film and about Bazzoni. It seems that both did the film as a favour to its director, although they speak about the project with fondness, and indeed Nero confesses to wishing he'd made more gialli - a sentiment that many viewers will surely echo. All in all, this featurette is succinct and highly insightful, although Bazzoni's non-appearance is a shame.
Undoubtedly the best of the four gialli Blue Underground have released so far this year, The Fifth Cord should go down a treat with viewers who favour the Argento school of gialli. The DVD is, for the most part, typical Blue Underground material, although it's definitely a step up from the non-anamorphic Japanese release with which many will have had to content themselves until now.