Luigi Bazzoni, 1971
Starring: Franco Nero, Silvia Monti
Andrea, a journalist with a drinking problem, is at a New Year’s Eve party where one of the guests is attacked and hospitalized. The man is convinced that it was an attempted murder and soon enough the bodies – mostly guests from the party -- begin piling up around Andrea. In order to avoid becoming the main suspect himself, he begins investing the crime; even though he was at the party, he was too drunk to remember the events of the evening. He learns that his mistress and his former lover may be involved, and the only real clue is a series of black gloves with various fingers cut off left behind by the killer.
Clearly building off the success of Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Fifth Cord – the title actually translates to Black Day for the Ram and it’s also known as Evil Fingers or Silent Killer – is an underrated effort with a solid lead performance and some effective moments of suspense. It borrows The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’s composer, the great Ennio Morricone, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (also known for his work with Bernardo Bertolucci), and the premise that the protagonist saw something of vital importance, but can’t remember exactly what. While Bird’s protagonist didn’t realize exactly what he was seeing, The Fifth Cord’s Andrea is simply an alcoholic – a device that believably wipes his memory and also makes him something of a likable scoundrel.
Italian B-movie star Franco Nero – mostly known for his spaghetti western roles – was excellent in the earlier proto-giallo A Quiet Place in the Country and is really the best thing about The Fifth Cord. His character is sort of a raconteur; a not so hard-working journalist who specializes in whiskey and women and is charming despite his many flaws. In typical giallo fashion, he’s a reluctant detective, driven to solve the crime only to keep himself from being arrested (or killed). I am perhaps biased writing this review, as I would watch a movie where Nero scraped paint off the walls (which he nearly does in A Quiet Place in the Country) and probably walk away content. He is certainly the film’s weighted center and remains a stable presence – despite his character’s unstable personality – in the face of dozens of characters and a somewhat flimsy plot.
POTENTIAL SPOILER: The primary plot issue is that Andrea wades through a series of clues to uncover an underground sex ring that involves minors. This sleazy element is disappointingly forgotten by the end of the film and it winds up as little more than a red herring. The overall tone is not quite lurid enough to be in league with a Lucio Fulci movie, but it goes a long way towards making everyone – including Andrea – a potential killer. The stylish cinematography, which eschews the vivid color palette of many giallo films, is dark and moody, with an emphasis on nighttime shots, overcast skies, and heavy blues. The death scenes have an especially grim feeling, certainly more so than The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and tension is ratcheted up by a number of creepy moments – such as when the killer records a confessions and plans for future murders.
Director Luigi Bazzoni didn’t make a lot of giallo films, but the three he did helm are some of the most unusual entries in the genre. His early film, The Possessed (1965), dealt with a woman’s mysterious suicide at a lake resort and plenty of sleazy sexual intrigue, while the latter Le orme aka Footsprints on the Moon (1975) is a delightfully chilling tale of psychological disintegration complete with a woman’s haunting dreams of an astronaut. What Bazzoni really brought to The Fifth Cord was the sense that all the characters are corrupt, morally flawed, or at least carrying a dirty secret, and that violent could erupt at any moment in such a compromised universe.
Fortunately available on DVD, The Fifth Cord might not be in the very top-tier of giallo classics, but it’s well worth seeing. Even if it’s sometimes difficult to keep the characters straight, there are a lot of familiar faces, including giallo actresses Rosella Falk (The Black Belly of the Tarantula), Silvia Monti (Lizard in a Woman’s Skin), and Ira von Füstenberg (Five Dolls for an August Moon), as well as The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’s Renato Romano. There are effective death scenes, a particularly chilling concluding sequence where the killer menaces, a child, and plenty of suspense. But hey, if all these pictures of Franco Nero haven’t convinced you, nothing will.