Blu-ray Review: The Possessed & The Fifth Cord

We are living in a golden age for American fans eager to get into the genre of Italian Giallo films. That’s not to mean that the Italians are producing their best yet. Nope. This is a genre whose heyday was in the early 1970s. But so many of the films either didn’t get distributed in America or their original American theatrical distributors went scissor happy and hacked down the films. Why the edits? Either to trim out violence or shorten the “dull parts” so they could get more screenings. With the arrival of the DVD and Blu-ray, so many Giallo films that had either been ignored or butchered have found their complete Italian version arrive on these shores. A few directors who had been obscure for decades are now getting a full appreciation of their work here. Director Luigi Bazzoni made three giallo films that never legally saw the light of day here in the 20th century. Now his first two films The Possessed and The Fifth Cord are getting Blu-ray release and Bazzoni has moved from relatively unknown to a master of the genre. This calls for two scoops of Talenti’s Organic Oak-Aged Vanilla on your Giallo and Gelato night.

The Possessed (1965) came out before the Giallo genre rush took over for the Spaghetti Western at theaters in Europe. The black and white film is less grindhouse and more arthouse as it’s mystery evolves like a Michelangelo Antonioni film or an Alain Robbe-Grillet. Bernard (The Weekend Murders‘s Peter Baldwin) is a writer who calls up his girlfriend to tell her he’s not coming back. He’s got other plans. He returns to a resort hotel near a lake to see Tilda (The Girl Who Couldn’t Say No‘s Virna Lisi). She’s a maid that he remembers in very intimate positions. After he checks in, he discovers Tilda is dead. Her death was ruled a suicide, but Peter sees things on the death certificate that makes him suspect there’s been cover up. He teams up with a local journalist (Autopsy‘s Pier Giovanni Anchisi) to probe who in the town would have wanted the maid dead. We also learn that Peter’s relationship with Tilda isn’t what it seems. The town is full of suspects and the killer might strike again to secure their secret.

The Possessed was never released in America which is a shame. There’s so much going on and yet the film doesn’t feel rushed as it explores the mysterious death. The film as the atmosphere of an arty ’60s foreign film and yet gives a real ending instead of just acting arty. Perhaps it was just uncool at the time to give an finale that doesn’t let the audience leave the theater confused at what they just saw.

The credits list Bazzoni as a co-director with Franco Rossellini. According to what I’ve read, Bazzoni directed the film while Franco was a co-writer and part of the producers. He had previously been an assistant director on films. Maybe he was this time, too. Franco was the nephew of Roberto Rossellini (Rome, Open City). Seems like someone stuck Franco’s name on the credit in hopes that it would attract more attention if people thought a Rossellini was a director on The Possessed. While Franco kept making movies including Caligula, he was a producer and not a director. Star Peter Baldwin would go on to be a major director of American TV shows including episodes of Mary Tyler Moore, Sanford and Son and The Wonder Years.

The Fifth Cord (1971) went into production after the success of Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Bazzoni teamed up with two of the collaborators who made Bird a success. First was cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now) framing up the action. He was able to bring an artistic element to the screen. Second was composer Ennio Morricone who provides a soundtrack that pushes the action and ups the action. While editor Eugenio Alabiso wasn’t from Bird, he did cut The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. This was a serious crew and luckily they had a serious cinematic force in Franco Nero. He was already an international superstar with Django and other Spaghetti Westerns. Now he was ready to tackle Giallo.

Andrea Bild (Nero) is drunk at a New Year’s Eve party which appears to be his usual state for the reporter. He’s there to many see his ex-lover (A Lizard In a Woman’s Skin‘s Silvia Monti). When one of the guests gets attacked on his way home, Bild finds himself assigned to the story. He uses his police connections to track down a young couple that witnessed part of the attack. The girl is a hooker and the guy (Torso‘s Luciano Bartoli), is a race car driver. This gets confusing to Bild since later he discovers his girlfriend Lu (Harper‘s Pamela Tiffin) is connected to the driver. The attacker returns and successfully kills this victim. The only clue is a leather glove with a finger cut off. Bild seems to have this story wrap around him. Is he going to be the next person killed or could the heavy drinking guy be the killer?

What makes The Fifth Cord unique in Giallo is Nero. He’s one of the few people at the center of Giallo film capable of beating up and killing everyone in the film. He gets angry easily and snaps quite a few time. He’s not gentle with Lu when he wants to know about the race car driver. There are points where he’s a bigger threat than the real killer. When the killer finally confronts Nero, you sense that this was not a wise thing. Nero isn’t going to scream and take a knife in the eyeball. The film looks amazing as Storaro paints the sets with light and shadow along with a trace of blood. Luigi Bazzoni does more than a paint by numbers clone of Bird.

Bazzoni only made five theatrical films during his career. His final Giallo is Footprints On the Moon that is also an artsy giallo. It really needs an American Blu-ray to show off Storaro’s cinematography. His other two films were Spaghetti Westerns. The Possessed and The Fifth Cord prove that Bazzoni created essential films that a casual fan of the genre must track down. All these decades later, Bazzoni finally has his time to shine.

The video is 1.85:1 anamorphic for both films. The picture quality on both is fantastic for the 1080p transfers. The audio is Uncompressed Mono PCM tracks in both English and Italian for the films. The levels are fine. You gets deep into the tones of Morricone’s soundtrack in The Fifth Cord. The movies are subtitled in English.

Audio Commentary by writer and critic Tim Lucas compares the film to the true crime that inspired it.

Richard Dyer on The Possessed ((25:12) is a newly filmed video appreciation by the cultural critic and academic. I have an issue because he doesn’t see the movie as Giallo. But in 1965, Giallo referenced the mystery books that had yellow covers. There’s a mystery at the core of this film so it’s Giallo enough for me.

Cat’s Eyes (11:52) is an interview with the film’s makeup artist Giannetto De Rossi

Youth Memories (16:20) is an interview with the film’s award-winning assistant art director Dante Ferretti

The Legacy of the Bazzoni Brothers (30:36) an interview with actor/director Francesco Barilli, a close friend of Luigi and Camillo Bazzoni. This gives a bit of biographical details on the director.

Original trailers (4:24) feature both Italian English soundtracks.

Arrow Video presents The Possessed. Directed by Luigi Bazzoni & Franco Rossellini. Screenplay by: Giulio Questi, Luigi Bazzoni, Franco Rossellini & Renzo Rossellini. Starring: Peter Baldwin, Salvo Randone, Valentina Cortese. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 95 minutes. Released: February 5, 2019.

Audio commentary by critic Travis Crawford talks about how this second Giallo from Bazzoni was more straightforward in the genre. He is impressed by Nero’s ability to play a drunk journalist.

Lines and Shadows (17:48) is a video essay on the film’s use of architecture and space by critic Rachael Nisbet. She talks about what Bazzoni and Storaro put on the screen.

Whisky Giallore (28:22) is a new video interview with author and critic Michael Mackenzie. He compares the movie to the novel.

Black Day for Nero (23:33) is a new video interview with actor Franco Nero The actor has fine memories of the production. He even recounts how he got out of his five picture deal with Warner Brothers so he could return to the cinema of Italy.

The Rhythm Section (21:27) is a new video interview with film editor Eugenio Alabiso. He talks about how these were not cheapie films cranked out to cash in on a new market. While they weren’t made with massive budgets, they had a lot of work put into them. He recounts working with Sergio Martino and other giallo directors during this time.

Deleted sequence (2:37) is a montage restored from the original negative.

Original Italian and English theatrical trailers (6:06) have fun with optical effects.

Image gallery (3:20) has plenty of promotional materials.

Arrow Video presents The Fifth Cord. Directed by Luigi Bazzoni. Screenplay by: Mario di Nardo, Mario Fanelli & Luigi Bazzoni. Starring: Franco Nero, Silvia Monti, Rossella Falk, Edmund Purdom, Maurizio Bonuglia & Pamela Tiffin. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 93 minutes. Released: February 5, 2019.

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