Blu-ray Release: October 26, 2021 (Giallo Essentials: Red Edition) /February 4, 2019 (original release)
Audio: English and Italian LPCM 1.0 Mono
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Run Time: 92:52
Director: Luigi Bazzoni
Note: This Blu-ray has been re-released as part of Arrow’s Giallo Essentials: Red Edition three movie set, which also includes Luigi Bazzoni & Franco Rossellini’s The Possessed (Italian: La donna del lago, 1965) and Flavio Mogherini’s The Pyjama Girl Case (Italian: La ragazza dal pigiama giallo, 1977).
When a man barely survives a brutal assault en route home from a New Year’s party, washed-up, whisky-swilling journalist Andrea Bild (Franco Nero) is assigned to report on the case. Before long, the maniac strikes again, this time with fatal results. As the body count rises, Andrea falls under suspicion himself, making it even more imperative that he crack the case. His only clue lies in a series of black gloves found at the location of every attack, each with a finger cut off… (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Luigi Bazzoni’s The Possessed (Italian: La donna del lago, 1965) was made at a time before Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Italian: L'Uccello dalle piume di cristallo, 1970) had set a popular template for giallo films going forward. He, co-writer/co-director Franco Rossellini, and co-writer Giulio Questi were free to explore an homage to ‘40s film noir and ‘60s arthouse. His second giallo, 1971’s The Fifth Cord (Italian: Giornata nera per l'ariete; aka: Evil Fingers), was made the year after Argento’s film and was forced to contend with a new standard, including specific character types and focus on police procedure and murder set-pieces. Despite accounting for new tastes, the director, along with his co-writers, Mario di Nardo & Mario Fanelli, continued to approach the genre with an arthouse mindset, looking back on the noir conventions that helped inspire it.
For instance, The Fifth Cord borrows one plot device – the protagonist’s inability to recall a crime he has witnessed – from Bird with the Crystal Plumage*. This particular plot device is not Dario Argento’s sole invention, obviously, as it is a common murder mystery trope since the days of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, and was dissected ad nauseum by Michael Antonioni in Blow-up (1966). Bazzoni himself delved into similar territory for The Possessed, but Argento established a popular visual representation, where the main character struggles to recall images in flashback montage. Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (Italian: Una lucertola con la pelle di donna; aka: Schizoid, 1971) further muddles the protagonist’s memories with mental illness and psychedelic drugs, while The Fifth Cord’s lead, whose actual job as a journalist is to remember the things he has seen, has his version of events disorganized by the noir detective’s classic vice: alcohol addiction. This being a giallo film, his drink of choice is, of course, J&B scotch.
But it is the film’s artistic ambitions that make it one of the most beloved and respected gialli of the ‘70s boom period. Like The Possessed, it pauses for surrealistic and dream-like tableaus, but what differentiates The Fifth Cord from other great Italian thrillers is Bazzoni and future Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s (Apocalypse Now , Reds , and The Last Emperor ) flawless compositions. The practiced precision of almost every shot in the film contrasts the increasing rawness of the genre, as pioneered by the likes of Umberto Lenzi, rivaling even Vittorio’s groundbreaking work with Argento on The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. While his giallo output was limited to only one more picture, the underrated and underseen Footprints (Italian: Le orme; aka: Footprints on the Moon, 1975), Bazzoni’s impact on Italian thrillers was forever solidified with this one immaculate production. The Fifth Cord’s lasting reputation can also be connected to star Franco Nero, who arguably didn’t act in any other mainline gialli, unless we consider Elio Petri’s psychosexual melodrama A Quiet Place in the Country (Italian: Un tranquillo posto di campagna, 1968). Otherwise, the actor tended to stick to late-in-the-game spaghetti westerns and poliziotteschi (aka: Eurocrime).
Plot spoilers follow.
The Fifth Cord was based on a 1967 pulp crime novel of the same name by David McDonald Devine, which already fit the giallo model by the time Bazzoni, di Nardo, and Fanelli got their hands on it. Contemporary reviews complain about the film’s excess of red herrings and other plot convolutions, but, in retrospect, it’s a surprisingly grounded whodunnit, at least compared to the utterly opaque murder mysteries of latter gialli. It’s also unique in its approach to homosexuality. Giallo films, like pulp novels, always had a tenuous relationship with homosexuality and gender roles. Argento’s early hits tended to skew more progressive, portraying queer people as supporting players whose sexuality was incidental, while movies like Anthony Ascott’s The Case of the Bloody Iris (Italian: Perché quelle strane gocce di sangue sul corpo di Jennifer?, 1972) cast homophobes as killers. On the other side, there are plenty of cases where queer people were killers and their queerness somehow drives them to violence. The Fifth Cord is an interesting case in which the killer isn’t gay in order to pass positive or negative judgment onto the LGBTQ+ community, but to create another wall between the audience (who knows the murderer killed out of romantic jealousy) and the climatic reveal. Heterosexuality becomes yet another red herring.
*The Fifth Cord is a good microcosm of the ways that giallo filmmakers fed off of each other. Besides minor lifts, like the killer’s whispered telephone threats, the entire climax, from set-up through foot chase, was clearly taken from Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and Argento returned the favor when he borrowed Bazzoni’s use of a musical nursery rhyme to set tension, as well as a use of mirrors to convey the killer’s identity, when he made Deep Red (Italian: Profondo Rosso, 1975) a few years later.
Imdb.com claims that Cinefear had the VHS release rights to The Fifth Cord in the US, but I can’t find any evidence of that tape actually existing. Given what I know about the company, I’m guessing that they used a VHS transfer for an unauthorized DVD. The first (and only?) anamorphic DVD was released via Blue Underground. Arrow’s Blu-ray was first issued in the UK in 2018, followed by a US disc in 2019 (both were region R/A). The 1.85:1, 1080p transfer was supplied by L'Immagine Ritrovata, who scanned the original camera negative in 2K. The details are tight without oversharpening and grain levels are clean without too much clumping. Some transfers that originate with L'Immagine Ritrovata have a yellowish tint or are generally too warm compared to other versions available. This transfer does skew a little yellow-brown, but so does every other release I could find screencaps from, so I’m going to assume cinematographer Storaro’s intended the color combination. The purple and red highlights pop nicely against the neutral hues, as well. Moody darkness is persistent, but only thick black when required, which is better than the occasionally muddy SD discs.
The Fifth Cord is presented with English and Italian dub options, both in LPCM 1.0 mono sound. As per usual, the film was shot without synced on-set sound, so all tracks are dubbed, but this is a case where I feel pretty comfortable recommending the English language dub, because a majority of the cast appears to be performing in English and some major cast members, including lead Franco Nero, dubbed their own performances. In addition, the English track is bigger and bolder than the slightly muffled Italian track – especially where Ennio Morricone’s score is concerned. Morricone had helped define the sound of gialli as he had defined the sound of spaghetti westerns. For The Fifth Cord, he blended the spooky female vocals of Bird with the Crystal Plumage (lots of “la la la” from soloist Edda Dell'Orso) with melodic, pop jazz themes (as opposed to free jazz grooves), and Gothic organ.
Commentary with Travis Crawford – The soft-spoken film historian, journalist, programmer, and critic approaches The Fifth Cord as a sort of underdog classic of the genre, one that didn’t benefit from the name recognition of Argento, Sergio Martino, or Fulci. He does a lot of comparing and contrasting against other gialli (particularly Bazzoni’s own gialli), while also discussing the film’s unique visual ideas, the wider careers of the cast & crew, and the limited behind-the-scenes information he could gather.
Lines and Shadows: Style in The Fifth Cord (17:49, HD) – Critic and freelance writer Rachael Nisbet explores The Fifth Cord’s photography and other stylistic choices, its literary roots in Devine’s novel, and its interest in modernity/traditionalism, naturalism/industrialism, and voyeurism (as seen throughout visual/narrative themes and production design).
Whisky Giallore (28:22, HD) – Author and critic Michael Mackenzie breaks down the post-Crystal Plumage giallo boom, which ran (more or less) from 1971 to 1972, how The Fifth Cord distinguished itself from the rabble, the “giallo-ization” of Devine’s novel (in slightly more detail), other connections to Argento, the idea of a socially progressive giallo, and the film’s deconstruction of gender roles.
Black Day for Nero (23:33, HD) – Star Franco Nero shares anecdotes from the making of the film and his long friendship with Bazzoni, including ditching his contract in Hollywood to make Man, Pride and Vengeance (Italian: L'uomo, l'orgoglio, la vendetta, 1968) with the director, and his memories of working alongside various cast & crew members.
The Rhythm Section (21:27, HD) – Editor Eugenio Alabiso thanks God for the gialli being reassessed in the modern era, before delving into his technical and artistic processes on the film, and his collaborative relationship with Bazzoni and others.
Deleted sequence (2:37, HD) – A short montage of characters going about their day that was discovered during restoration.
Italian and English trailers
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.