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.

The Possessed/La Donna del Lago (1965)

The Possessed (1965)‘Would you like me to get Elsa to bring you a thermometer?’

A young writer returns to a country hotel, looking for the maid who he became obsessed with the year before. But when he arrives, he finds that she is dead, an apparent suicide. Not convinced that she would kill herself, he determines to find out exactly what happened…

Unusual early Giallo film from writer-directors Luigi Bazzoni and Franco Rossellini, with help on script duties from Giulio Questi (‘Death Laid An Egg’ (1968)). Although ostensively a fairly standard murder-mystery, the filmmakers deliver an intriguing puzzle piece, with an unconventional narrative that beguiles and wrong foots the audience on a regular basis.

Bernard (Peter Baldwin) returns to the coast where he spent some time the previous year at a quiet hotel run by middle-aged Enrico (Salvo Randone) and his daughter, Irma (Valentina Cortese). He’s supposed to be there to write, but he’s really looking to reacquaint himself with pretty blonde maid Tilde (Virna Lisi). Unfortunately, he discovers that she’s dead. According to Randone, she committed suicide but he hears elsewhere that she was found with her throat cut down on the beach and the police never found the culprit.

The Possessed (1965)

🎵The Sun Has Got His Hat On! Hip, hip, hooray!🎶

Baldwin determines to investigate and contacts old acquaintance and local photographer Pier Giovanni Anchisi. Despite ribbing Baldwin about his first novel (‘you’ve got too much imagination’), the two join forces, Anchisi suggesting that Lisi and Randone were lovers and that she was pregnant at the time that she died. Another suspect is Randone’s newlywed son, Marco (Philippe Leroy) who has returned from the city with sickly bride Adriana (Pia Lindstrom). She’s confined to her room during the day but wanders the beach at night and seems desperate to talk to Baldwin…

There is little remarkable about the story set up; the key here is how it’s delivered to the audience. The focal point is Baldwin, who gives a strange, detached performance. His character is very passive for a leading man, just an observer who watches events through rain-streaked windows and cracks in door panels. Although he never seems to become directly involved, the story is told from his point of view. However, it doesn’t take long to realise that we can’t really be sure what we’re seeing on the screen. Are these Baldwin’s memories (repressed or otherwise), his dreams, his conscious fantasies or actually the reality of what’s happening around him? Is it a mixture of some of these things, or maybe all of them? The ambiguity is only emphasised by a complete absence of transitions between scenes, the filmmakers seemingly determined to provide no clues.

The Possessed (1965)

‘Louis, I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’

Our main character’s behaviour is also slightly odd. Rather than ask after Lisi when he arrives at the hotel, he just waits ages for her to appear. He mentions that he glimpsed her naked with a lover the year before, but didn’t see her partner. Later on, however, he clearly ‘remembers’ that it was Randone. There’s also a striking sequence where he stares from his window at an outbuilding where Leroy is cutting up an animal carcass with a cleaver. Significant events always happen offscreen, heightening his isolation and ‘outsider’ status.

Although only appearing briefly, like Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ Lisi hangs over the story like an unquiet ghost, present in photographs, almost every conversation and forever in Baldwin’s thoughts. Their previous relationship is never clearly established and it remains just one of the lingering question marks after the credits have rolled. The climax seems somewhat weak at first glance with the killer revealed and all the loose ends perfunctorily tied, but is there more to it than that? The film’s final dialogue scene may just suggest otherwise. It certainly provides food for thought anyway.

Bazzoni and Rossellini conjure a fine, off-kilter atmosphere with excellent use of light and shadow and the stunning black and white photography of Leonida Barboni. Naked trees shiver in the whistling wind as the waves rush on to the desolate lake shore. Birds scream. A cemetery with strange wooden crosses lies drowned in snow. You can almost feel the cold sinking into your bones.

The Possessed (1965)

Lindstrom was too tall for the remake of ‘Don’t Look Now’.

This was pretty much Rossellini’s only writing and directing gig with his other work in the industry almost exclusively as a producer. So it’s likely that most of the credit for this film belongs to Bazzoni, especially as he conjured a similarly weird yet beautiful atmosphere with ‘Footprints On The Moon’ (1975), a film that has cult classic stamped all over it until its dreadful ending. His only other major work were spaghetti westerns ‘Man, Pride and Vengeance’ (1967) and ‘Brothers Blue’ (1973) and well-regarded Giallo ‘The Fifth Cord’ (1971).

Certainly not for everyone, but I found this to be a smart, intriguing exercise in mystery and misdirection. Recommended.

Footprints/Footprints On The Moon/Le Orme (1975)

Le Orme (1975)‘Must attempt operation alpha on the next one’s brain to totally neutralise his emotional circuits.’

A translator has a vivid dream of an astronaut being left to die on the moon and finds a mysterious postcard in her kitchen when she wakes up. Going into work, she discovers that she has lost two complete days out of her life. Trying to recover her missing memories, she travels to the destination on the postcard, but the visions of the astronaut just keep getting stronger…

Atmospheric and intriguing mystery from Italian director Luigi Bazzoni that stars Brazilian actress Florinda Bolkan. Proceedings open with the first of Bolkan’s dreams; a monochromatic vision of a lunar module touching down, an astronaut being dragged across the moon’s surface and the craft leaving. lt‘s weird, but not as weird as things are about to get. She thinks it’s a Tuesday morning, but it’s actually Thursday and a torn-up postcard of the island of Garma is the only clue as to what’s been happening. She’s gripped by a strong sense of déja vu as soon as she gets to this beautiful holiday destination and interaction will the locals seems to prove that she spent her missing time there hiding out in disguise from mysterious forces…

Technically, this is quite the tour de force. Director Bazzoni and cinematographer Vittorio Storarro create a dream-like atmosphere, perfectly reflecting Bolkan’s increasing isolation and apparent paranoia. Invaluable assistance comes from the striking locations, with the white stone architecture of the island’s old buildings a perfect contrast to the desolate beach and sinister woods. Interiors are gorgeous as well; the hotel providing a sense of faded glamour and timelessness, and handsome islander Peter McEnery’s house all large, open spaces, wide stairways and stained glass. Visually, the film is stunning.

The story itself seems to be an intricate jigsaw puzzle, with Bolkan tracking down clues that just won’t fit together. Ambiguous conversations hint she’s the victim of a strange conspiracy, but just what do her visions of the moon and mission controller Klaus Kinski have to do with anything? Could her work as a translator at a scientific conference be involved? As more and more questions pile up, the audience is truly invested in Bolkan’s plight and its resolution. And then, in the last few minutes, it all falls apart. To call the climax ‘disappointing’ is about the kindest description that can possibly be applied. It was plainly a situation where scriptwriters Bazzoni and co-author Mario Fanelli created a mystery and then had no idea how to solve it. It really is a massive let-down, especially when you consider their script was actually based on an original novel by Fanelli. I hope that had a better ending.

Le Orme (1975)

Not all planets turn out to be ‘M’ class…

This was Bazzoni’s final international feature, after which he had a couple of ‘assistant’ gigs in the 1980s. His brief filmography with the megaphone comprises a couple of unusual spaghetti westerns, including ‘Man, Pride & Vengeance’ (1967) which starred Kinski along with Franco Nero, and a couple of giallo thrillers; ‘Possessed’ (1965) and ‘The Fifth Cord’ (1971) which again starred Nero. He had co-writing credits on those projects as well.

Storarro subsequently worked on many more features, including higher profile projects such as ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979) for Francis Ford Coppola, ‘Reds’ (1981) for Warren Beatty and ‘The Last Emporer’ (1987) for Bernado Bertolucci. He won Academy Awards for all three.

Bolkan starred in notorious ‘nunsploitation’ picture ‘Flavia the Heretic’ (1974) but is probably best known as co-star of well-reviewed crime drama ‘Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion’ (1970). She was still a fixture in ltalian cinema over 30 years later, although her last credit to date was in 2005. UK actor McEnery was familiar to British audiences from such films as ‘The Moon-Spinners’ (1964), ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’ (1970) and the title role of ‘The Adventures of Gerard’ (1970), which was based on stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. By the latter part of the 1970s, he had mostly switched to television, taking the leads in both historical drama ‘Clayhanger’ and unusual thriller ‘The Aphrodite Inheritance.’ Kinski began as a henchman in German crime thrillers before forming a toxic partnership with director Werner Herzog, which led to international acclaim for ‘Aguirre, Wrath of God’ (1972), ‘Nosferatu The Vampyre’ (1979) and the infamously troubled ‘Fitzcarraldo’ (1982).

In the final analysis, this is a very frustrating film. lt’s a high quality piece of work until the last five minutes. Then all the intricate plot threads are tied up with a terribly banal and lazy denouncement.

What could have been a minor classic falls on its face at the last hurdle.