The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l’ariete (1971)

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l'ariete (1971)‘Don’t bother to express your sympathy; poor Sofia was a living corpse.’

A handsome young teacher at a language school is brutally attacked and hospitalised on his way home from a New Year’s Eve celebration. The following month another party-goer is found strangled to death and thrown down the stairs in her home. A black leather glove is discovered next to both victims, leading the police to suspect the same culprit…

Smooth, professional Giallo from director Luigi Bazzoni with some fine technical credits and a standout performance from star Franco Nero. Under the influence of Dario Argento’s international smash ‘The Bird with the Crystal Plumage’ (1970), the sub-genre was beginning to conform more closely to the template it’s recognised for today. Specifically, a serial killer with black gloves, a twisted plot lining up a series of suspects and the big reveal of the killer’s identity and motivations at the climax.

It’s just another New Year’s Eve, and drunken journalist Andrea Bild (Franco Nero) is propping up the bar trying to catch the eye of ex-lover Helene Volta (Silvia Monti). Lovers Edouard Vermont (Edmund Purdom) and Isabel Lancia (Ira von Fürstenberg) wrestle each other across the dancefloor, and Doctor Riccardo Bini (Renato Romano) tries to ignore his invalid wife Sofia (Rossella Falk). Meanwhile, John Lubbock (Maurizio Bonuglia) is headed for the vomit comet in the Gentleman’s facilities. And it gets worst for Bonuglia from there as he’s beaten with a length of pipe in an underpass on the long walk home, an attack interrupted by track driver Walter (Luciano Bertoli) who’s been racing the engine of underage prostitute Giulia (Agostina Belli) nearby.

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l'ariete (1971)

‘Half a gallon of whiskey is not a working expense…’

The police are no closer to finding the culprit a month later when Falk is murdered in her home, but link the cases due to the single black glove left at each scene. Nero begins to investigate the situation, using it partly as an excuse to spend time with old flame Monti. His initial enquiries reveal that brand new widower Romano is paying off Bertoli for unknown reasons and that Bonuglia was upset by the announcement of von Fürstenberg’s engagement to Purdom. It also turns out that Bertoli’s sister is none other than Nero’s sometime live-in girlfriend Lu (Pamela Tiffin). Worse still, after another suspicious death, Police Inspector Haller (Wolfgang Preiss) has the journalist pegged as his prime suspect.

This is a complex scenario with events focused on this small, intertwined group of acquaintances, and moving quickly throughout the film’s tight 91-minute running time. However, after the final reveal, audiences could be forgiven for concluding that most of these complications and blind alleys are little more than meaningless diversions. The core mystery is pretty simplistic, to say the least, and not particularly creative. In short, the plot is a little messy, and the killer’s motivations, such as they are, are thin and barely explored. Elements in the final act such as astrology and a young child in danger seem to have been almost thrown in at random with no foreshadowing, adding to the vaguely shambolic feeling.

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l'ariete (1971)

‘This Blade Runner sequel is bound to be great…’

But while the story may not be the best, the film scores very highly in many other departments. Director Bazzoni and award-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro combine to create a highly atmospheric visual package, highlighted particularly during the climactic confrontation on an abandoned factory site. There’s another classy score from Ennio Morricone, and a selection of striking locations, including the overgrown wasteground beneath the road bridge where the killer stalks Belli. This is one of the film’s outstanding suspense scenes, only surpassed by the early sequence where the invalid Falk is trapped in her house, which Bazzoni turns into a real tour de force.

However, it’s the outstanding Nero who catches the eye, giving a performance of rare intensity and conviction. His drunken journalist is a man on the edge of disintegration, battling the bottle with a weary fatality that’s ever-present in his eyes and drawn features. His chemistry with Tiffin is also terrific, playful and caring for the most part, but with the potential to explode into sudden violence without warning. Again, it’s played just right, providing insight into his fractured state of mind without compromising his role on the side of the angels or overshadowing the mystery. It’s a balancing act and one that Nero seems to accomplish without effort.

The Fifth Cord/Giornata nera per l'ariete (1971)

‘I’m sorry, this is not the beginning of a beautiful friendship…’

Bazzoni had less than half a dozen feature credits in his short career. However, these included outstanding early Giallo ‘The Possessed’ (1965) (a co-directing credit with Franco Rossellini) and the potentially stunning ‘Footprints On The Moon’ (1975) a film fatally compromised by its dreadful twist ending. Storaro also worked on the latter before picking up Oscars for ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979), ‘Reds’ (1981), ‘The Last Emperor’ (1987) and ‘Dick Tracy’ (1990) as well as many other international awards. He has created a new 35mm film format with the intention of its adoption for both television and film as a universal aspect ratio and developed a series of custom colours gels for cinematographers that bears his name.

Nero was no newcomer to the Giallo, having appeared in early example ‘The Third Eye’ (1966) but was launched to international stardom of the back of his title turn as ‘Django’ (1966). He played Lancelot du Lac in Joshua Logan’s all-star musical ‘Camelot’ (1967), where he met wife-to-be, Vanessa Redgrave. He’s appeared in such diverse projects over the years as Luis Buñuel’s ‘Tristana’ (1970), ‘Enter the Ninja’ (1981) and ‘Die Hard 2’ (1990) with Bruce Willis. When working on this film, he flew to England and back on weekends to shoot his scenes for Otto Preminger’s ‘Saint Joan’ (1972). He has recently won several prestigious ‘Best Actor’ awards for his role in ‘La Danza Nera’ (2020).

Technically, a Giallo out of the top drawer, but all those qualities are somewhat undermined by a weak mystery and untidy story development.

A Quiet Place In The Country (1968)

A Quiet Place In The Country (1968)‘Your work is really quintessence.’

A successful young artist experiencing creative problems relocates to a tumbledown old manor house in the French countryside. After a while, he starts to believe that the place is haunted by the ghost of a beautiful young Countess killed in the last war, but is it all just in his mind?

Curious mixture of hip 1960’s psychodrama with a far more traditional tale of the supernatural. The opening is very much the former with star Franco Nero tied to a chair and dressed like Jesus when girlfriend Vanessa Redgrave comes home from the shops to their so-modern, minimalist flat. Her purchases include a transistor refrigerator,  an erotic electro-magnet, an electric shoe-cleaner and an underwater television, among other things. I’ve no idea where she does her shopping! Anyway, her clothes come off, there’s some vaguely kinky foreplay and then an apparent bit of Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ (1960) in the shower. Turns out it’s all one of Nero’s rather twisted fantasies, which was a relief as I’m not sure I could have withstood another 90 minutes of something so relentlessly ‘now’ and ‘with it.’

A Quiet Place In The Country (1968)

‘Come on, sir, this is what you get for stealing from the duty free shop.’

You see, Nero’s having a bit of a problem coming up with new artistic pieces (probably because his character has no talent), and that’s a concern for gallery owner Redgrave as she’s left her husband and hitched her wagon to this new, rising star of the art world. When out for a drive in the country to visit a rich sponsor, Nero spies a magnificent old house and figures it’s the place to reignite his creative juices, principally because he seems to recognise it, and then sees himself beckoning from behind the gates!

That would raise a few red flags for most people, but for Nero wandering around an empty old house with his doppelgänger is a definite upgrade from his current daily life. This includes watching slideshows that juxtapose scenes of mob violence with naked breasts, burying porn magazines, stalking Redgrave while she walks down the street throwing flowers around, playing basketball, groping random women and buying more porn magazines. Redgrave also dresses up as an air hostess (I think!) and pushes him around in a wheelchair on occasion. For some reason or other.

Unfortunately, all this random weirdness (or meaningful insights, if you insist) soon become very wearing, particularly when director Elio Petri delivers them in the style of the time, which may have seemed to be cutting-edge back then, but now looks more than a little pretentious. Proceedings do settle down somewhat after this rather bewildering opening, especially when it becomes obvious that the story is being told solely from Nero’s point of view. Now the concept of ‘the unreliable narrator’ is an interesting one; but when your main character is unreliable because of a tenuous grip on reality, then it becomes a real tightrope act for any director to deliver successfully. When an audience isn’t sure if anything on the screen is happening in the real world, it’s hard for them to remain invested and engaged with the material.

The film’s strongest sequences are set in the country house, which proves to be a fine location indeed. Parts of the old building are only one step up from a ruin, and Petri does some good work here, crafting some genuinely creepy moments as Nero is seemingly stalked from beyond the grave. His efforts at establishing how the young Countess died could have made for an intriguing mystery, but it proves to be little more than a sideshow to Nero’s moody sulking and occasional bursts of histrionics. Redgrave is off-screen for long stretches, and that’s rather a shame, considering her sexy, playful performance is so different from the more straight-laced ‘respectable’ roles that came her way later in her career and tend to be the ones she’s associated with by the film-going public.

A Quiet Place In The Country (1968)

‘Do you mind? The catering truck has run out of bagels again…’

This is loosely based on the Oliver Onions’ novella called ‘The Beckoning Fair One’ from a 1911 collection, although l confess l didn’t recognise it even though I’m familiar with the story. Onions’ original is set in a city apartment, and this ruthless update removes all the subtlety of his work. Matters are further undone by the film’s postscript, which, if interpreted a certain way, gives the film an even more unsatisfying conclusion. It’s often cited as an early Giallo movie, but it pushes the boundaries of that definition a fair way.

Overall, it’s a frustrating experience. It looks good and there are some impressive moments, but ultimately, it’s sabotaged by the director’s determination to impose an over-stylised approach. If the story had been more grounded in its’ early stages and those kinds of flourishes employed later on, it would have made for a far more effective final result.

 

The Third Eye/ll Terzo Occhio (1966)

The Third Eye (1966)‘Life is no more than fleeting shadows. A wonderful fairy tale designed for idiots.’

A handsome Count plans to marry but his choice does not meet with the approval of his elderly mother or their live-in maid, who has designs on the family fortune herself. When both his fiancée and the Countess die on the same day, the Count’s fragile psyche begins to unravel. Things get a lot worse when his late girlfriend’s twin sister makes the scene…

Dark thriller from Italian director Mino Guerrini that’s often considered an early Giallo film, or at least one that contributed to the development of the genre. Although credited as based on the exploits of a real life serial killer, the plot was actually the invention of producer Ermano Donati. Franco Nero takes the lead as our troubled nobleman in the same year that he found fame as legendary gunslinger ‘Django’ (1966). The other major players are Gioia Pascal as the scheming servant and a young (and blonde!) Erika Blanc as the twins. The supporting cast is minimal with only Olga Solbelli as the Countess receiving any significant screen time.

The film opens with Blanc on a visit to the family villa, which is the film’s principal location and considerably more impressive than your average rental for a weekend getaway. She’s obviously bored with her intended, which is no surprise when it turns out that Nero’s character has all the charisma of a wet fish. Mumsie really isn’t happy about the impending nuptials either, and confides to Pascal that she’d do anything to stop the wedding. Later on, we find out that mother and son sleep in the same bedroom, so it’s probably not the healthiest of family dynamics!

The Third Eye (1966)

Nero’s audition for the ‘Land of the Giants’ was a complete triumph…

Anyway, (un)faithful family retainer Pascal takes her employer at her word and nips out to the garage where her big knife meets the brake lines of Blanc’s little runabout. In the meantime, Nero is practicing some fairly aggressive taxidermy on a dead bird in his basement laboratory! Ok, that is a lot more sinister than it sounds; after all, every man needs a hobby, right? Still it is a bit of a worry I guess.

When he find out that Blanc has flounced out in a bit of a huff, he jumps in his own car to chase her down, only in time to see her take a header off a mountain road. At the same time, Pascal and Solbeli have a bit of a barney at the top of the stairs, which ends up with the latter taking a tumble into the next life, courtesy of some violent post-summersault attentions from Pascal. All fair enough, but what follows stretches credibility to an unreasonable extent.

Let’s examine the police investigation, or rather the lack of one. Officers do turn up when the Countess croaks, but seem perfectly happy to put it down to an accident. The audience can just about give that a pass but their procedures in Blanc’s case seem a little slipshod to say the least. When Nero scrambles down the slope after her crack up, he’s too late; she’s dead and draped over the wreck which is lying upside down in shallow water. Now, we can accept that Nero manages to snatch the body without being seen, but what exactly happens to the car? Later on, Blanc’s twin tells us that the police are diving in the sea to look for her body. So I guess they found the scene of the accident? If so, then why isn’t it a murder investigation? Didn’t they notice that the brake lines on the car had been cut? Or did the car get washed away on a convenient wave? But, if that was case, why are they searching for her in the sea? These are not insurmountable problems to be sure, but the film just ignores them.

There’s also a problem with the rest of the story. Granted, events are traumatic enough to send Nero off the deep end, but why do they turn him into a serial killer? He picks up a stripper performing at a local club and then strangles her in bed next to the corpse of his beloved. A prostitute follows the same way. Does anyone report these girls missing? Do the police link their disappearances with the mystery of what happened to Blanc? Didn’t at least a dozen witnesses see Nero pick up the stripper from the club anyway? And just how much time has passed? Is it a week after Blanc’s death? A month? A year? Has he used his taxidermy skills to preserve her body? We don’t know the answers to any of these questions because the movie never tells us.

The Third Eye (1966)

Putting in his eyedrops was always such a performance…

What we have here is a film of parts that don’t come together. The serial killer aspect seems unrelated to the early murders; almost as if it were included to pass the time before Blanc’s twin arrives to kick the film into the final act. There’s also a violent murder with a knife that doesn’t fit with the killer’s previous methods, although it is a signpost to future films in the Giallo arena.

Performances are a mixed bag, with Nero mostly either blank or pulling silly faces, although there are a couple of scenes where he seems believably disturbed. The inexperienced Blanc is better as the bitchy sister than the innocent heroine, although the script’s complete lack of character development can’t have been helpful. The standout is Pascal’s scheming maid; the role is as one note as all the others but she does deliver a fine portrait of delicious villainy. It makes it all the more puzzling that she only made one other film, and that in a supporting role. Both Blanc and Nero went onto long and successful film careers, of course, and are still working at the time of writing.

The film was remade as ‘Buio Omega’/’Beyond The Darkness’ (1979) by prolific director Aristide Massaccesi, who made almost 200 films under many different names and in many different genres. He used Joe D’Amato for this one and it has quite the reputation for sleaze, nastiness and gore.

A rather muddled and frustrating film that has a few decent moments but is a rather unsatisfying experience.