The Fifth Cord was released in 1971, part of the giallo glut that hit Italian cinema in the early Seventies. Much like the American slasher flicks of the Eighties felt the need to ape Carpenter’s Halloween, Italian filmmakers were eager to reproduce the success of Dario Argento’s groundbreaking film, Bird with the Crystal Plumage. The Argento influence is blatant in The Fifth Cord but, thanks to a tremendous Franco Nero performance, the film saves itself from being a total knock-off.
Nero plays Andrea Bild, a baggy-eyed reporter who is better friends with a bottle than he is with any person. Bild drinks directly from a bottle of J&B while driving and thinks nothing of backhanding his lover. Picture Columbo with a mean streak and a mustache. When a man is attacked on the way home from a New Year’s Eve party, Bild finds himself in the middle of an investigation that quickly shifts from assault to murder.
The interconnectivity of all the characters is complicated. It’s easy to lose track of how everyone knows each other and what their names are. It’s easier to think of them by distinctive characteristics. There’s Tunnel Guy. He knows Glasses Girl and Boy Racer. It all works itself out in the end, this tangle of identities, even if the viewer can’t point at the screen and say, “Oh, there’s Giulia.”
That should be an indication of how standard The Fifth Cord is. You can recognize the players. You have a pretty good idea of where everything is going. The final revelation of the killer’s identity is not even that surprising. As far as gialli go, The Fifth Cord is really tame.
It’s Nero that makes the movie worth watching. It’s fascinating to watch him drown within himself, his face growing more tired, every setback punctuated with another drink. When he explodes, he is a fury of emotion. It’s more paroxysm than performance. Nero’s eyes are the only points of light in his entire persona, the sole quality that makes one think there’s someone alive in there. It’s a complex characterization trapped in a mediocre film.
The Fifth Cord looks pretty, though. Director Luigi Bazzoni (Le Orme) and cinematographer Vittoro Storaro (Apocalypse Now) understand how to make a gorgeous film. Look at all the shots involving staircases and shadows. Characters have a tendency to stop while going up or coming down the stairs, their visages obscured, stuck in that indecisive limbo for the duration of the shot. It’s one of the most visually appealing of the giallo films, the photography far surpassing the story.
The inherent beauty of The Fifth Cord is brought out by the fine 2K restoration from the original camera negatives by Arrow Video. All the gorgeous hues of black and violet are vibrant and alive. There’s an abundance of special features here, too. Critic Michael Mackenzie does a fine job of placing The Fifth Cord into a cultural and temporal perspective. You can watch a fascinating deleted scene, a montage featuring the major characters, that has never been featured in any other cut of the film. There’s tons of other stuff, too, because this is an Arrow Video release. Simply watching one of their Blu-Rays makes me feel smarter.
The Fifth Cord is a mild mystery movie. The violence is brief or implied, which is an oddity within the genre. Franco Nero is great, though, and the visuals are outstanding. It’s like a hot air balloon; The Fifth Cord is a gorgeous thing to look at, but there’s nothing inside.
The Fifth Cord is available from Arrow, Amazon, and wherever fine Blu-rays are sold.