Andrea Bild (Franco Nero) is a reporter for a newspaper in Rome, where he is often found nursing a bottle of whisky rather than with his head buried in a news story, as he does tonight, though at least he has the excuse of currently attending a New Year's celebration. While there is still dancing going on, the party is winding down which suits him fine, he would rather keep drinking until oblivion found him than socialise, though he does raise his glass to anyone who occasionally meets his eyeline. But what he does not know is that among the revellers is a man who has grown obsessed with one thought which runs through his mind incessantly: the thought telling him to kill.
Luigi Bazzoni was never going to be one of the top flight directors of Italian giallo, his filmography was simply too meagre for that accolade, though that is not to say he was worth dismissing out of hand, for his sense of the visual was so strong that you may have wished he had applied himself more. Maybe he wanted to be taken more seriously as an artist and considered this sort of thing beneath him, or perhaps he was determined to elevate the genre with his aesthetic style and that proved unpopular with producers, but whatever the reason, his output amounted to a slender number of well-designed movies that nevertheless are rarely brought up when discussing greats.
Of course, there would be no The Fifth Cord without the work of Dario Argento, whose hit thriller The Bird with the Crystal Plumage had made waves the year before this, and had the Italian industry in its copycat inclinations producing a mass of gialli for the rest of the nineteen-seventies. That said, Argento did not invent the form, and you could look to Mario Bava as the true godfather of that decade's horror-thrillers with Blood and Black Lace in the mid-sixties, one of his supremely stylish endeavours that had certainly inspired Argento just as surely as Dario spawned so many imitators. On the other hand, given the way Italian cinema was going, would it not have created these anyway?
It was more as if this was an idea whose time had come, and if Argento and Bava had not popularised them, someone else would have come along and kicked the craze off themselves. Whether that director would have been Bazzoni is a matter of conjecture, but doubtful, yes, he certainly had the ability to craft striking imagery and a nasty way with staging a murder, if not a leering one, but he was more likely to have been an also-ran when efforts like this and his later, even weirder, giallo Footprints, were too keen to plough their own oddball furrow than stick to the path set out by others in the technique. Still, he did bring something of substance to the table, which may have you lamenting his other work was either so hard to find or simply non-existent.
The plot was basic stuff, Nero, whose unforced charisma was well in evidence here, investigated the increasing number of murders while in danger of becoming a suspect himself when he appears to have connections to the deceased. It was pleasingly twisty, but nothing to get too enthused about unless you fancied a little star spotting, from regulars like hard faced Rossella Falk here as a woman paralysed from the waist down which makes her easy to attack, in a cruel development, to more rarely glimpsed celebrities like Pamela Tiffin as Bild's girlfriend, she having abandoned Hollywood and set up in Europe, as many performers did in those days. But really you watched this because almost every frame was worth, well, framing, the approach to the architecture of a refurbished Rome making it look cold and uninviting yet somehow hard to turn away from. You were thinking, what could this guy do with a real quality script, but that answer would have to go unanswered. Music by Ennio Morricone, who offers loungecore, jazz freakout and church organ in almost equal measure.