8/28/09

How Low Can You Giallo? -The Fifth Cord (1971)

Each Friday in the month of September, I’ll be talking about one of my favorite of the Italian film genres, the giallo, but I just couldn’t wait to start into these flicks so I’m bringing you one today. I have an affinity for thrillers in the first place, but what really compels me when it comes to gialli is their abundance of style, beautiful women, and the vast array of directors who attempted them. Tonight’s film comes from a director I am not all that familiar with, Luigi Bazzoni. Bazzoni directed only a handful of movies, but he had already kicked off his career with the thriller La donna del lago (1965) before trying his hand at a western L’uomo, l’orgoglio, la vendetta (1968) starring Franco Nero and Klaus Kinski. The seventies started with Bazzoni teaming with Nero once again, but this time it was to make an entry in the giallo category.

It seems that after Argento hit it big with his film The Bird with the Crystal Plumage everyone had to rush right out and make a stylish thriller with an animal name in the title. Hence we get Fulci’s Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Martino’s The Case of the Scorpion’s Tail, and even Paul Nachy’s A Dragonfly for Each Corpse. That brings us to tonight’s feature which in English is often billed as The Fifth Cord. The title pasted onto this flick is not only extremely boring, but it lacks the giallo flair we all so love. The Italian title however, Giornata nera per l'ariete or Black Day for the Ram, not only fits the animal mold, it’s far more descriptive of the film.

Bazzoni’s film concerns a reporter, Andrea Bild (Franco Nero) who is assigned to investigate a series of murders that keep happening on Tuesdays. Unfortunately, for the alcoholic, womanizing Bild, the dead are all connected to him. The police have no clues except for a black glove found at the murders each time with another finger cut off. They soon focus their attention on Bild, and he’s taken off the case. Not about to let that stop him, Andrea searches through a sleazy sex club, smacks around the right people, and finally discovers the information he needs in the nick of time.

The highlight to the film has to be the always charismatic Franco Nero. He first found fame with his Sergio Corbucci western Django (1966) and successfully parlayed that into a role on the other side of the Atlantic playing Lancelot in 1967 film Camelot. Somehow with all the great Franco Nero films like High Crime, How to Kill a Judge, or Street Law, I’ve yet to get around to reviewing one of his films. Let me just start off with saying that Nero is one of my favorite Italian actors, and The Fifth Cord can only strengthen that feeling. While the alcoholic writer character has been done to death, Nero manages to bring something to it with his skillful performance. It was also very nice that the voice in the dubbed version I have (the Blue Underground release) was done by Nero himself. I always hate it when the voice doesn’t match the character, but there was no such problem here.

The other performances in the film are solid, but none of them were built up enough to be memorable. Renato Romano is possibly the most interesting character, the doctor with a fetish for underground sex shows featuring underage girls, but the most memorable death scene comes from Rossella Falk playing the doctor's crippled wife. As she lies in bed, the killer stalks her, pulling her wheelchair and the phone into the shadows. She tries to pull herself along the floor to safety, but it is to no avail. While most of the other murders are committed off-screen or without visceral flair, Ms Falk’s demise captures the fear, the immediacy, and the violence inherent in a murder. It’s a wonderful piece of cinema, and one of the reasons this film should stand out.

There are another couple of things that make The Fifth Cord really shine. The first is the haunting score by Ennio Morricone. Used sparingly throughout the film, the score is a far cry from Morricone’s plaintive work on westerns. The music here has much more in common with his experimental work, and its clashing chords and subtle arrangements contribute greatly to the suspenseful feeling. Also making a contribution is the cinematography. Eschewing the flashy pop styles of many giallo, Vittorio Storaro shows the world in fairly realistic light which becomes progressively more encroached by shadows as out hero descends further into the case. It’s easy to see why Storaro would go on to shoot films like Reds, Apocalypse Now, and Ishtar. Sure the last one is a famously bad film, but have you ever heard anyone say it looked bad?

When it comes to looking at The Fifth Cord as compared to other gialli, the film fails to deliver on several fronts. While the latex gloved killer likes to leave black gloves at the scene of his crimes, they are mostly bloodless affairs. There is some nudity, but even the sleazy sex show seems reserved and tasteful, without the perversity that spices up so many of the film’s contemporaries. What the film does offer is a great little tale that not only ends up with a taut ending, it actually made sense to me as I reflected on the film. That’s no easy feat as many gialli have a hard time wrapping up their stories. Between the story, the score, and Nero’s impressive acting, The Fifth Cord scores on enough fronts that it overcomes the minor things that it lacks.

If this is going to be your first giallo, then it’s not a bad place to start. It’s an easily digestible piece of cinema, but it does lack some of the flash and grandeur that the genre typically embodies. The Fifth Cord is sure to please Italian cinema fans as well, and no fan of Franco Nero should let this one slip by. Well, that’s all for now, but join me each Friday this September for another thriller Italian style.

Bugg Rating

1 comment:

  1. I've always wondered about this one as a fan of Nero's and a fan of the genre. But the name is terrible, and not very Giallo like at all!

    Sounds like it will be worth a shot though, and I must say, that Morricone music in that trailer is fantastic!

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