La Ragazza che sapeva troppo AKA The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Starring: Letícia Román, John Saxon, Valentina Cortese, Dante DiPaolo, Titti Tomaino
(out of 4)
(The) Mack (and) The Knife
Nora Davis (Letícia Román) is a fan of pulp mystery novels (gialli). Arriving in Rome from America, she witnesses the arrest of her traveling companion for smuggling weed cigarettes (one of which she smoked on the plane), suffers through the death of the sick family friend she was staying with, is mugged in the street, and witnesses what looks like a murder on the Piazza di Spagna. The only person willing to listen to her is a local doctor named Bassi (John Saxon) who has taken a liking to her (although not quite believing her story). She learns that 10 years ago a poor woman was stabbed to death by somebody called the Alphabet Murderer. Was her vision a dream, a psychic link to a murder 10 years prior, or has the alphabet murderer really returned? That’s the plot that drives our Hitchcock-inspired mystery directed by Mario Bava.
Just another late Saturday night.
Bava’s last black-and-white film (it was still in fashion at the time to shoot horror movies in this manner), The Girl Who Knew Too Much is a beautiful looking work, with skillful use of shadows, light, and angles, and featuring great shots of Rome. The gorgeous leading lady Román plays her character as one obsessed with solving a murder while being oblivious to everything else (her indifference to Dr. Bassi’s affections is noteworthy, and later when they are planning marriage she still seems indifferent!). Speaking of Saxon, his work is also strong here, and it is said that he learned Italian for this movie (while also earning the ire of Bava because the directory thought Saxon was Román’s boyfriend). Roberto Nicolosi’s jazzy score is also very good (although the American version of this film, called Evil Eye, would use Les Baxter). What we ultimately have, though, is a movie that uses Hitchcock as a jumping off point into a whole new kind of cinema – the giallo. Arguably the first of its kind, inspired by the lurid Italian paperbacks with the yellow covers, it does indeed dabble in violence, mystery, and sex, but The Girl Who Knew Too Much is hardly a work of sleaze and gore that would be prominent in later gialli. It’s rather restrained, actually, and has large doses of humor to act as a counterweight to the serious elements. Most of the funny stuff involves Bassi’s unfortunate habit of injuring himself whenever he’s around Nora. They bump heads in a meet-cute, he breaks a finger when accidentally falling into Nora’s booby trap, and to top it all off she hardy seems interested him romantically. The movie uses this to humorous effect at the beach, when Bassi finally loses it and kisses her.
Mario, tell me a scary story!
The story itself isn’t too particularly complex, but like later giallo pics, the story isn’t exactly the point. Mood and setting is the order of the day, along with themes of madness and paranoia. There are some iconic shots here, including a dead woman with a knife in her back being dragged by a shadowy figure, and bullet holes in a door with beams of light shining though. It has been speculated that Nora’s experience is a metaphor for her loss of virginity; I won’t dispute it, but then again sex and violence are so closely linked in these kind of murder mysteries anyway. Hitchcock, Argento, and DePalma all knew that. The Girl Who Knew Too Much isn’t a movie to take too seriously plot-wise; it’s too paper thin and and in certain ways preposterous (Theorizing that a murder could be a marajuana-induced hallucination? That must be some good shit!). Noteworthy is the use of occasional voiceover narration – I understand its use (to make the film feel like you are reading a mystery novel) but on the other hand it feels out of place among Bava’s image-driven filmmaking style. No credible reason is given for the alphabet murders either, but as I said, this is a Bava picture and atmosphere trumps reason.Things are much improved here by having Saxon and Román around, though – not surprising, there is something very Barbara Steele about her. Bava would continue to refine the giallo experience with work like Blood and Black Lace (1964), 5 Dolls For an August Moon (1970), and Twitch Of The Death Nerve (a.k.a. Bay Of Blood) (1971), which itself would start its own genre (the slasher).
– Bill Gordon
Click for larger image of Letícia Román