Starring: Leticia Roman, John Saxon
Director: Mario Bava
The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) has a place in the history books because it is widely credited with laying down the template for the giallo subgenre – Italian thrillers with bags of style and an element of horror. It’s also an example of Bava using his genius to transform a rather routine storyline. An impressionable young American girl, Nora Davis (Leticia Roman) comes to Rome to visit her aunt, only for the old dear to expire on her very first night there. Fleeing the deathbed in horror, Nora gets mugged and conked on the head on Rome’s famous Spanish Steps, and while she’s still fuzzy with concussion she witnesses a brutal stabbing. The unfortunate girl is soon getting threatening phone calls and apparently being stalked by a bloodthirsty killer.
The script essays various half-hearted double bluffs. Nora’s a keen reader of murder mysteries – could her imagination be getting the better of her? There was a stabbing on the exact same spot ten years before – could she have had a psychic flashback? The guy sitting next to her on the plane in the opening scene gives her a pack of cigarettes laced with marijuana – could she be high? None of these gambits is worked out with any great degree of logic, and Bava pays them scant regard as he concentrates on brewing up a mood of paranoia and derangement, turning The Girl Who Knew Too Much into a study of fear and isolation. Nora’s night terrors are captured in Bava’s most elaborate Gothic style – the aunt’s death and the murder on the Spanish steps are both brilliantly disturbing – and on top of that you have a fetishistic attention to detail and flashes of kinky sexuality (Nora’s naked under her shiny leather raincoat, the policeman who comes across her after she’s been mugged immediately notices, taking a quick peek).
Given free rein, Leticia Roman’s acting style is somewhat wild, so she’s at her best when Bava deploys her as a kind of human mannequin in his twisted fashion plate world. These moments come up well on the HD transfer, which has a touch of grain and a few scratches but which captures the deep shadowiness of the director’s visuals. Her aunt dead in bed, Nora sprawled unconscious on the Spanish steps – it all looks suitably nightmarish and drenched in darkness.
This release from Arrow Video also includes The Evil Eye, the version of the film issued in America by AIP. Don’t let the thought bubble-style voiceover or the the fact that it labours under a rather polite-sounding English dub put you off, because not only is it well worth seeing, you might actually prefer it to the Italian version. Whereas that cultivates a mood of the dreamlike and irrational, The Evil Eye is very much a lighthearted romantic thriller (and, ironically, the more Hitchcockian of the two versions, despite ditching the Hitchcock-quoting title).
Seven minutes longer than the Italian version, it reinstates several scenes presumably cut from the original for being too frivolous or broadly comical.These include some pratfalls at the airport; an extra scene with a mad professor who believes in psychic phenomena; a moment where our heroine is pursued by a suspicious looking goon who turns out to be a randy admirer; and a scene which will delight Bava fans where a photo on Nora’s bedroom wall of her dead Uncle Gustavo (in fact Bava himself, with a Salvador Dali moustache) follows her around with his eyes while she parades about in a short teddy. All of this extra footage is very welcome (although AIP also take away from the viewer’s enjoyment by cutting out the long pan down Nora’s bikini-clad body as she’s lying on the beach). Combined with dialogue rewritten to allow for plenty of jolly banter, the result is undoubtedly a smoother, calmer film than The Girl Who Knew Too Much, and arguably a more rounded, less one-note one as well.
This is reflected in the look of the American print, which is much more silvery-toned and softly graded than the Italian film – a Hollywood gloss which diminishes some of Bava’s chiaroscuro effects, but which allows for an extremely sharp and clean HD transfer. For example, when Nora rings the bell of her aunt’s flat, you can see the sheen of her fingernails in minute detail, and the murder scene looks stunningly nightmarish. If you don’t mind the loss of some of the shadowy starkness of the Italian original, this is a lovely, immaculate transfer, one that adds greatly to appeal of the AIP version.
Extras include a brisk and insightful 21-minute piece with Alan Jones, Richard Stanley, Mikel Koven and Luigi Gozzi, who discuss the film’s contribution to the giallo genre and its place in Bava’s oeuvre. There’s also an enjoyable 9-minute interview with John Saxon, who talks about how he came to be in the movie thanks to his friendship with Leticia Roman, about living in Rome with other American expats such as Jack Palance and about his prickly relationship with Bava. And Video Watchdog‘s Tim Lucas serves up another of his extremely thorough audio commentaries – in particular, he makes some interesting observations about the importance of camera operator Ubaldo Terzano to the striking look of Bava’s films.