Updated: Apr 23, 2019
On his commentary track for the new Arrow Video Blu-ray release of The Fifth Cord (1971), film journalist and programmer Travis Crawford states that the film opens with “a disorienting perspective.” I’ll add that it’s a disorientation that extends into a good fifth of the entire movie. Only later do you realize that its short scenes of different people performing simultaneous actions are a way to introduce a connected cast of characters and to portray each one of them as a potential killer.
When John Lubbock (Maurizio Bonuglia) is clubbed in a tunnel on his way home from a New Year’s Eve party, alcoholic reporter Andrea Bild (Franco Nero) is summoned to investigate for his newspaper. As in many other gialli, the lead (Bild) becomes the prime suspect in a subsequent murder spree and races against time to solve the mystery himself before he’s apprehended. Unlike many other gialli, The Fifth Cord doesn’t feature big murder set pieces, and, if I recall, is entirely bloodless.
For me, the gore is what makes a giallo film enter the territory of a horror movie. As I’m learning, though, most gialli are not horror movies, but instead thrillers, and the best ones create an intriguing mystery without a predictable outcome. I was truly surprised by the ending of The Fifth Cord. Of course, this isn’t from the plot point that the killer is unveiled at the end; instead, from the specific identity of this particular killer.
Another feature that causes me to consider a giallo film to be a horror film is when the camera provides you the perspective of the killer. In The Fifth Cord, director Luigi Bazzoni and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro use the technique sparingly, more often employing surprises that we witness in third person. I wouldn’t necessarily consider them “jump scares,” another common trope of a horror movie; however, they’re simultaneously anticipated and surprising.
Cumulatively, the special features in the always-excellent Arrow package explain better than I can how The Fifth Cord feels different from most gialli:
In Lines & Shadow (17:49), critic Rachel Nisbet says the film employs “cutting edge cinematography” that is “the best the genre has to offer.”
In Whisky Giallore (28:22), author and critic Michael Mackenzie says that during the zenith of the giallo movement, The Fifth Cord is more original than others and was made by “who’s who of cult giallo creators.”
In Black Day for Nero (23:33), actor Franco Nero, now 77-years old, says everything about the movie is high class. (He looks great, by the way, although if he turned his head just a little more, I’m afraid we’d see that he’s sporting a pony tail.)
In The Rhythm Section (21:27), editor Eugenio Alabiso discusses how, at the time, giallo was considered a by-product of the film industry, but has now been reassessed. Many gialli were made simply for profit, but The Fifth Cord was “the opposite.”
I’d summarize all this by saying that, yes, these characteristics make The Fifth Cord unique. Simply from watching, it feels different from most gialli. In layman’s terms, I’d credit this to exceptional craft (it’s lovely to view) and casting (Nero is terrific, a true screen presence with his piercing eyes and masculine good looks.) It could also be the print on the Blu-ray, but there are none of the flaws in film quality you sometimes experience in Euro-horror and giallo films. I really enjoyed it.
Arrow Bonus Materials:
Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original lossless mono Italian and English soundtracks
English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
New audio commentary by critic Travis Crawford
Lines and Shadows, a new video essay on the film’s use of architecture and space by critic Rachael Nisbet
Whisky Giallore, a new video interview with author and critic Michael Mackenzie
Black Day for Nero, a new video interview with actor Franco Nero
The Rhythm Section, a new video interview with film editor Eugenio Alabiso
Rare, previously unseen deleted sequence, restored from the original negative
Original Italian and English theatrical trailers
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Haunt Love
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kat Ellinger and Peter Jilmstad