The Fifth Cord (1971)

Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage has scores of imitators that rose in the wake of its success. There were scores of gorgeous women being murdered, jazzy soundtracks blaring and movies with animals in their titles. And then, every once in a while, there’s a giallo that rises beyond the pack and asserts itself as a true work of art.

Giornata Nera per L’Ariete, or Black Day for the Ram, may appear to be an animal title, but it really refers to astrology (which kind of gives away some of the film). It’s better known as The Fifth Cord.

Director Luigi Bazzoni doesn’t have a huge list of films to his credit, but between this film, The Possessed and Footprints on the Moon, his take on the giallo form is unlike anyone else’s. This is more than a murder mystery. It’s a complex take on alienation and isolation at the end of the last century.

Based on David McDonald Devine’s novel — but based in Italy, not Scotland as in the book — The Fifth Cord starts with a man barely surviving a vicious attack on the way home from a New Year’s Eve party. We even get to hear the words of the killer:

“I am going to commit murder. I am going to kill another human being. How easy it is to say, already I feel like a criminal. I’ve been thinking it over for weeks, but now that I’ve giving voice to my evil intention I feel comfortably relaxed. Perhaps the deed itself will be an anti-climax, but I think not.”

Writer Andrea Bild (Franco Nero!) is assigned to report on the case and to put it bluntly, he’s a mess. Ever since his separation, he’s been drowning his life in whiskey and women.

Soon, the attacker strikes again and this time, whomever it is succeeds and leaves behind a black glove with a finger missing (Evil FIngers is an alternate title). That one finger missing turns into two, then three and comes with evil phone calls. Andrea has to take on the giallo role of the investigator before he becomes either the fifth victim or is arrested by the police — it turns out that he was at that very same New Year’s party, as was every single one of the victims.

The story itself is rather basic, but the way that it’s told is anything but. Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography places The Fifth Cord in an industrialized Rome that’s rarely seen in giallo, eschewing the historic architecture we’re used to seeing. I’d compare it to a less flashy Tenebre, but this was made a decade before that movie.

If you come to these movies for the fashions, well, you may be slightly disappointed. But if you love the decor, look out. I’ve never seen more spiral staircases in one movie ever before. The house with the giant fireplace was also used for Argento’s Four Flies on Grey Velvet, but looks so much more impressive here. And I loved how the modern architecture gives little room to run in the closing moments.

This movie has never looked better than on its recent Arrow Video release. It’s jaw-dropping how gorgeous the film appears and the Ennio Morricone soundtrack positively emerges from the speakers. I expect great things from this company, but they continually surprise and delight me at every turn.

This release includes a brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative with the film in both English and Italian with optional subtitles. There’s also a commentary track by critic Travis Crawford; Lines and Shadows, an incredibly informative video essay on the film’s use of architecture and space by critic Rachael Nisbet; interview with author Michael Mackenzie and film editor Eugenio Alabiso; and even a brand new interview with Franco Nero, who looks amazing at 77 years old. They even found a previously unseen deleted sequence!

This is one of my favorite releases so far this year and has my highest recommendation. You can get it directly from Arrow Video or from Diabolik DVD.

This movie is also available on Vudu.

NOTE: Arrow Video sent is this for review, which has no bearing upon our review.

3 thoughts on “The Fifth Cord (1971)”

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