Director: Luigi Bazzoni
Producer: Manolo Bolognini
Cast: Franco Nero, Silvia Monti, Rossella Falk, Edmund Purdom, Maurizio Bonuglia, Pamela Tiffin
Running Time: 90 min.
Barely five minutes into The Fifth Cord and Franco Nero’s character is swigging back a bottle of J&B behind the wheel of an automobile. So I had a feeling this was going to be a good giallo, and for the most part I was right. The Fifth Cord is your standard Italian horror film of the early 70’s, with Nero playing an alcoholic reporter out to solve a murder mystery before everyone in his social circle winds up dead. There’s not much exceptional about the film but for the fact that it was scored by legendary composer Ennio Morricone (The Good, The Bad, The Ugly) and lensed by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, Last Tango in Paris, Dick Tracy).
Indeed, The Fifth Cord is one of the most visually stunning giallos you’ll ever see. While it lacks the inventive POV shots or aerial camera work that Dario Argento frequently brought to the genre, the film is beautifully lit and features some wonderfully fluid camera movement. Although director Luigi Bazzoni never went on to become famous in the horror genre, he at least understood one thing about the giallo: besides the lighting, half the atmosphere of these films is location, location, location. Nearly every shot of The Fifth Cord showcases unique architecture or interior design that helps heighten the paranoid mood of the film, whether it’s the hospital with gray spiral staircases outside its windows; a cement apartment building with dust particles shimmering inside beams of light; or the swank home where a young boy is terrorized by a killer in one of the most harrowing scenes of the film.
Ennio Morricone unleashes a dissonant score with a lot of propulsive drums. The frequent party scenes feature a kind of Morricone-style lounge music. The music is good but it’s used sparingly so overall The Fifth Chord is not one of Morricone’s more memorable ventures. Followers of the composer will still want to give the film a watch since the score displays a lot of variety: from sweet female “la la la’s” to gothic organ music depending on what the scene calls for.
For giallo fans with a hunger for red meat, The Fifth Cord is disappointingly bloodless. There are a handful of murders but nothing up to the standards of onscreen brutality that Dario Argento would set later in the decade. There’s plenty of skin to go around, though: whether it’s Franco Nero romping in bed with his prostitute mistress or a kinky sex party where a bunch of rich elites pay money to watch a young couple get it on. Personally I’d rather have an elaborate murder set-piece than 70’s-style nudity, but the best giallo usually managed to fit both in.
The Fifth Cord is not one of the best but it is very watchable, mostly due to director of photographer Vittorio Storaro and actor Franco Nero (Django, Street Law), who has one of those expressive faces just made for the silver screen. Sadly, this movie falls into the same trap as many other Italian horror films in which the killer just has to be someone on the fringes of 70’s mainstream society, whether it’s a homosexual, transvestite, a cripple, someone deformed, etc. As if there’s no way those kinds of people could lead a normal, well-adjusted life. It’s a bit uncomfortable from a modern perspective, but as a viewer there’s not much you can do about it.
The Fifth Cord DVD is available from the always reliable Blue Underground. If you’re a fan of Franco Nero, Ennio Morricone, or Vittorio Storaro, you could certainly do worse than this film. I’d only recommend that viewers educate themselves with the best the giallo genre has to offer – the seminal works of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Michele Soavi, etc. – before queuing up The Fifth Cord. Oh, and make sure you’ve got that bottle of J&B ready.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 7/10