The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) – Giallithon #1

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)So starts the Giallithon with the film that arguably started it all, Mario Bava’s 1963 classic The Girl Who Knew Too Much (La Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo). Obviously inspired by the pulp fiction yellow (giallo) covered books, even as far as the heroine reads them and is inspired in her investigations by them and other famous crime novels, this is the first film to take a story that could have been lifted from the pages of those books and transpose them onto the screen with lashings of Hitchcock style. In fact it seems that Bava was reluctant to direct this, but it doesn’t show. They weren’t sure what they wanted to achieve with the film. In fact the American release is a totally different beast to this Italian subtitled version under review. The American release was touted as a romantic black comedy called The Evil Eye, a parady of previously released Hitchcock films, and it featured more scenes of humour. These didn’t really fit in with the overall tone of the film (a mystery with horror elements i.e. a proto-giallo), so the Italian release is much more streamlined and all the better for it. This was due to Bava being determined to make this into a serious film, and as a consequence he played down the comedy and boosted the horror. It was a stroke of genius. In this and his next proto-giallo, Blood And Black Lace (1964), he laid down the foundations for the entire Giallo genre.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

Starring Leticia Roman and (a young) John Saxon, this was to be Bava’s final film to be shot in black and white, and also was filmed mostly on location in and around Rome. Bava shoots everything using purely natural lighting, and with each and every shot he uses obtuse angles, and an ever encroaching darkness to bring a sense of dread and foreboding to the proceedings.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much
The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

Roman stars as the lovely Nora Davis, a young naive American who flies into Rome to visit her Aunt Adele. At her Aunt’s place, she encounters the suave and handsome Doctor Marcello Bassi (Saxon) who informs Nora that her Aunt is in failing health, and that he has been keeping an eye on her. That very night Nora sees her Aunt suffer a fatal heart attack. Freaked out by her deceased Aunt’s body twitching (it’s actually her cat trying to get up onto the bed), Nora flees from the house and out onto the big plaza outside. As she tries to make her way to the nearby hospital to fetch Dr. Bassi, she is mugged and knocked unconcious in the street. Nora comes around in a dizzy haze, and as she does, she witnesses a woman being stabbed in the back and dragged away… Did she really see a murder take place?

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

The Girl Who Knew Too Much

The rest that follows is a great mix of your giallo staples of red herrings, scenes of peril for our heroine, and bloody murders. Of course these were fresh then, and the elements that Bava brought to proceedings are evident in all the major players in the first wave of giallo and beyond. The black humour and creepy camera angles were no doubt a huge influence on Dario Argento and Umberto Lenzi in their films that followed this.

Saxon and Roman make great leads, and it’s unfortunate that it was reported that Saxon and Bava really did not get on well at all (detailed by Tim Lucas in the included sleeve notes). A strong leading man was unfortunately not a giallo staple, as many of the films feature very dull lead actors indeed. It’s a shame this wasn’t something that continued on through the genre.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

This DVD version was released by Image Entertainment in 2000, and has a good transfer in it’s original 1.66:1 ratio presented anamorphically. It has parts where there is some evident print damage, and the contrast looks to be slightly too high in parts, but apart from a few ropey scenes… it all looks very good. It’s in the original Italian language with optional English subtitles. You can also get the film as part of the Bava boxset released by Anchor Bay, or a good transfer from French label Film Sans Frontiers.

A great film and a very worthy start to the Giallithon. Essential Giallo.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

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