Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The Fifth Cord (1971)

Country: ITALY

Giornata nera per l'ariete
Evil Fingers

If one film perfectly sums up the Italian giallo’s commitment to style over substance then it is surely Luigi Bazzoni’s The Fifth Cord. Bazzoni at this point had no form within this genre and its just as well that he was able to secure the talents of Franco Nero on screen and Vitorrio Storaro and Ennio Morricone behind it. His narrative which was written in conjunction with Mario di Nardo and Maro Fanelli and based on D. M. Devine’s novel of the same name is a routine murder mystery that offers the audience precious little that Dario Argento hadn’t already delivered with his superior efforts. That said, what it does offer, is a perfectly serviceable, but typically convoluted plot, that weaves its way towards a very suspenseful climax. Bazzoni would follow this with the equally non-descript Footprints (1975) before disappearing entirely from the landscape of the giallo.

Making his one and only entry in this genre is Franco Nero who plays the hard drinking and embittered journalist Andrea Bild. Andrea swigs the ubiquitous J&B Whiskey with reckless abandon whilst rallying against the stifling conformity of the small town newspaper he works for. Despite his rather bleak outlook on the world Bild has no problem pulling the birds and has two gorgeous women on the go. We first see Andrea at a camp but curiously lifeless New Years party where his moroseness is only matched by the weirdness of the circle of friends he has accumulated over the years. The performances at this point are typically melodramatic but offset somewhat by Morricone’s suitably lethargic lounge music. As the revellers say their far from fond farewells one them is later attacked and left for dead in a tunnel. After this incident Andrea finds his circle of friends beginning to slowly dwindle and the pressure mounts on him from both his employers and the Inspector in charge of the investigation. In the best gialli fashion Andrea decides to go it alone and become an amateur sleuth, but his progress is constantly hindered by his own fractured psyche, and the ever present fear that he may become the next victim.

Bazzoni adopts a very non-violent strategy to the film, with not a single drop of blood in sight. To compensate for this however the set pieces are without exception delivered with suspense and aplomb. Of particular note is an early sequence in which a crippled woman meets her death in an eerily lit house, and an excellent sequence towards the end in which a boy is terrorised in an empty house by the psychopath. What these moments have in commen is an attention to composition that elevates The Fifth Cord above its contemporaries. The cinematography is at times magnificent and Storaro is given full reign to experiment with light and shade. The finale which sees Bild cornering the killer in a deserted building exemplifies the energy and fluidity of the mobile camera, and this works in brilliant conjunction with Nero’s nervy and aggressive demeanour. The point of view shots are given a liveliness which detracts from the conventional nature of this stylistic choice - and is best represented by a sequence which sees Bild’s despised editor meet his fate in a park. Unfortunately though this succession of events is purely created to add yet another pointless red herring to the proceedings. Why Bazzoni persists in setting Bild up as the killer is beyond me, because its clear from the start that the film wont have the courage to pull such a twist.

The Fifth Cord tries to develop a subtext about the symbiosis between sexuality and violence. It does this by punctuating the narrative with occasional shots of the killer recording onto cassette the thought processes that go into their madness. The breathless pleasure of the killer’s voice as they describe what method of murder to choose is one of the more disturbing aspects of the film. Unfortunately this thematic territory is skated over thinly and the killer’s motive turns out to be your standard case of jealousy. It is at least jealousy with a twist, but one cant help feeling a trick was missed here by the writers. Further half baked subplots include one dealing with underage amateur porn, and seems to be included simply for its shock value. One can commend Bazzoni for his attention to the interplay of characters - even if those other than Bild remain thin and sketchy. It does show that he was at least trying to seek a different approach. But ultimately The Fifth Cord is all about the lighting strategies employed by a gifted cinematographer who had already helped to define the look of gialli with his work on Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), the brilliant soundtrack by Ennio Morricone, and a powerhouse display from Franco Nero.

1 comment:

  1. I like The Fifth Cord a lot. And I loved Footprints. I'm not generally all that much of a giallo fan. I like the fact that Bazzoni doesn't rely on violence and gore.


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