Franco February: THE FIFTH CORD (1971) Review

I’ve talked about nineties giallos a lot on here, but I’ve actually never talked about the real deal. So, to coincide with Franco February, I’ve chosen a somewhat well known giallo from the golden age of Italian murder mysteries, which just so happens to star Franco Nero! Based on a book by D.M. Devine, here we have a little spaghetti shocker originally called Giornata nera per l’ariete (which translates to The Black Night of the Ram), but was retitled to The Fifth Cord when given a US release. Is this one for the books, or is the presence of Nero not even enough to save it?

THE FIFTH CORD (1971) Review

Andrea Bild (Nero) is an alcoholic journalist who’s pretty much hit rock bottom. After attending a New Year’s Eve party, one of the guests is attacked with a pipe, leaving him in a neck brace and convinced it was a murder attempt. Soon after, members of that party begin getting killed by a mysterious madman, whose trace is only marked by a leather glove left at the scene with fingers of the glove cut off according to which victim it is. Bild finds that he’s the primary suspect, so to clear his name and stop the killings, he begins digging deep into the case and uncovers a web of sex, scandals, and murder. Can he catch the psycho before he himself becomes a victim?

My attempts to find a copy of the novel this film is based on were unsuccessful, so I really can’t say anything about how faithful this movie is to the book. Even without knowledge that this is based on a novel, it’s still apparent that there are some cuts made to the story. Plot points that should have probably been elaborated on further come and go faster than Bild’s dignity as the movie progresses, and a lot of it doesn’t have too much to do with the proceedings. The Fifth Cord is directed by Luigi Bazzoni, who also directed the mind-bending (and very rare) semi-giallo Footprints on the Moon. Alongside Nero is Edmund Purdom from Italian classics like Absurd and Pieces and giallo veteran Renato Romano from Argento’s debut The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.

I guess the problem with The Fifth Cord is that it feels a little too summarized. In the end, everything makes sense, yet it still feels like there’s something missing. There’s some sort of subplot involving some characters involved in a pornography business, and when the killer is revealed, the motive doesn’t even involve it. And when looking back, a lot of the scenes in this movie are really uneventful. There are only four murders in the 90-minute runtime, and most of the dialogue pieces between them amount to nothing. Whereas in something like Deep Red, every scene between the murders builds on the clues before all the pieces come together and it’s awesome. Here, it’s Nero running around talking to red herrings until the killer is revealed. The murders aren’t very impressive either, and it isn’t helped by the near-absence of music (surprising, as Ennio Morricone was responsible, but the score here feels almost like an afterthought).

But that’s not to say this is a bad giallo. In fact, it’s quite good! The cinematography is as stunning as you’d expect it to be, maybe even more so. It’s not on Argento or Bava levels, but there are moments where I thought to myself, “That’s a really nice shot!” It’s a slow movie, but the talky scenes are enjoyable just for the visuals. I only wish the Morricone score could match it. Nero is as great as he’s ever been, and this is certainly more of an emotional role than I’m used to seeing him in. He’s a drunk, so he has a few mood swings and isn’t the most likable protagonist, but I found myself rooting for him by the end of it. Most of the other characters just serve as red herrings or cannon fodder, but that’s how it usually is. The Fifth Cord houses some really great suspense moments, like when a crippled woman is crawling on the floor in the dark and the entire time we’re just waiting for the killer to strike. Then when a child is being chased around his house by the murderer who actually attempts to strangle the kid! The coup de grace of awesomeness is the final five minutes when Nero is chasing down the killer. In a typical giallo, the killer is hunted down, unmasked, and stopped in a matter of about two minutes. But not here! Here, the two have it out in some wicked fistfights and an intense chase around a factory until the motive is revealed and the end comes.

For a movie released during the golden age of the giallo, The Fifth Cord could’ve been better. But I had fun watching it. It’s not Franco Nero’s finest hour either, but his presence and rugged charm give the movie a much-needed boost. It’s got all the trademarks of a great giallo, with striking camerawork, a good score, a surprising amount of suspense, an extraordinary finale, and Franco Nero! All the drivel in the plot gets to be a drag, though. Blue Underground put out a DVD complete with interviews with Nero and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. It’s also being re-released as part of BU’s Midnight Movies series on a triple-feature with fellow giallos Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion and The Pyjama Girl Case. I haven’t seen those two yet, but if they’re as good as The Fifth Cord, it’s worth the money. It’s an average giallo, but even an average giallo is an above-average movie.

The Verdict: The Fifth Cord serves as a successful giallo venture that’s only marred by disposable dialogue sequences and some choppy storytelling.

Score: 7/10

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