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Director: Luigi Bazzoni
Blue Underground

Based on David McDonald Devine’s 1967 fictional crime novel of the same name, THE FIFTH CHORD is yet another Italian-made thriller produced in the wake of the success of Argento’s THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. Director Luigi Bazzoni’s noirish, low-lit contribution to the endless giallo cycle is highlighted by a starring role by Franco Nero, who made it big in westerns like DJANGO and would soon become an international star, appearing in English and American productions as well.

Newspaper reporter Andrea Bild (Nero) drowns himself with alcoholic while carrying on affairs with several beautiful women. After a wild New Year’s party, one of the guests is assaulted nearby in an ill-fated murder attempt and sent to the hospital. Andrea, who knows the hospitalized victim, is the next day assigned to cover the situation for a feature story, as more killings soon to take place. The unidentified killer’s trademarks are leaving behind black gloves with fingers cut out, as well as making intimidating phone calls using an indistinguishable voice. Everyone who ends up murdered was a guest at the party, and poor Andrea soon becomes a main suspect, forcing his editor to pull him from investigating the case any further. With his life now at stake, Andrea continues to try and track down the murderer and uncover what his true motive was before he becomes "the fifth cord."

Straying from the usual colorful style in which gialli are made, Bazzoni crams the film with hazy lighting and drab color schemes, making the whole experience feel like a downbeat cloudy day. Distorted lenses and half-baked attempts at kink give the proceedings more flavor, but the subsequent murders are shot with little inspiration and are sometimes witnessed in their aftermath. The story is very run of the mill, with the casting of Nero as a hardboiled journalist/sleuth carrying it to a level it probably wouldn’t have elevated to without his presence. Nero is always interesting to watch, and his turn as an alcoholic, womanizing (and sometimes women-slapping) loser caught up in a series of murders is probably the film’s best asset. At times, THE FIFTH CORD can be very difficult to get wrapped up into, but there are a few very worthy suspense moments, namely the killer stalking a defenseless cripple (Rosella Falk from THE BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA) squirming about on the bedroom floor, and a screaming child being cornered into an endless corridor by him. The impressive cast includes Silvia Monti (A WOMAN IN A LIZARD’S SKIN), Ira von Fustenberg (FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON), Renato Romano (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE), Wolfgang Preiss (MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN) and Agostina Belli (SCREAM OF THE DEMON LOVER) as a prostitute murder witness. Respected 1950s Hollywood actor turned sleaze film staple, Edmund Purdom, is wasted in a small role.

Blue Underground presents THE FIFTH CORD in an anamorphic widescreen tansfer which has been letterboxed at 1.85:1. The image is very sharp and clear, with fine grain present in some of the darker lit scenes. The black levels are sharp, and the colors look natural if a bit flat. The sole audio track is a Dolby Digital 2.0 mono version of the English dub, which thankfully bare’s Nero’s original speaking voice. The dialogue here sounds fine, as does the music comprised of another dynamic score by Ennio Morricone.

A 16-minute featurette entitled “Giornata Nera” (Black Days) contains interviews with star Nero and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. Speaking in Italian with English subtitles, both gentlemen discuss how they got involved with the film, and have very complimentary things to say about director Bazzoni. Storaro (who had just done THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE) talks about his craft and what he was trying to accomplish while shooting the film, and Nero tells a couple of good anecdotes, including that he was flying to England on weekends to shoot POPE JOAN while THE FIFTH CORD was being made. The original theatrical trailer is a visual treat, focusing on a close-up of Nero’s eyes, and in a series of kaleidoscope wipes, moves back and forth to the more sensational highlights of the film. (George R. Reis)