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DVD SAVANT

Savant Review:
THE GIRL WHO KNEW
TOO MUCH


The Girl Who Knew Too Much
Image
1963 / B&W / 1:66 / 16:9 enhanced/ Dolby Digital Mono
Starring Leticia Roman, John Saxon, Valentina Cortese, Dante DiPaolo
Cinematography Mario Bava
Art Director Giorgio Giovannini
Film Editor Mario Serandrei
Original Music Roberto Nicolosi
Writing credits Mario Bava, Enzo Corbucci, Ennio De Concini, Eliana De Sabata, and Mino Guerrini
Directed by Mario Bava

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Before the DVD Eurohorror explosion, we tended to associate Mario Bava with Black Sunday and Black Sabbath, the films that were most popular in the U.S. Thanks to Image's Mario Bava Collection, the scope of the Italian director's work is beginning to widen. First we saw Lisa and the Devil, which was more an art film than a horror show, a creepier version of Last Year at Marienbad. Black Sabbath in its original cut was no longer a kiddie spook show, but a superior omnibus film for adults.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much is another surprise. Because Tim Lucas had defined it as the first giallo 1 , coming before his Blood and Black Lace, Savant was expecting stalking terror and gruesome murders. Lucas is obviously correct on the genealogy, but it should be stressed that this charming and unpredictable thriller is more like Charade than Deep Red. The Girl Who Knew Too Much is very much a riff on the Alfred Hitchcock 'murder witness in peril' thrillers. Often playfully tongue in cheek, Signor Mario toys with conventions and expectations here like Hitch himself, proving that there's a lot more to il maestro Bava than cobwebs and camera tricks.

Synopsis:

Young Nora Dralston (Leticia Roman) takes a vacation to Rome, arriving, unfortunately, on the eve of her aunt Edith's passing. Rushing down a grand set of steps to summon a doctor, she's attacked by a purse-snatcher and knocked unconscious ... but witnesses a second crime, the murder of a helpless young woman.

In hospital, Nora is dismayed when everyone discounts her murder story - even her new acquaintance, a charming but rather clumsy young doctor, Marcello Bassi (John Saxon). But a strange man in a hat seems to be stalking her. And when she moves into a nearby flat adjacent to the ill-fated steps, she finds newspaper clippings about a string of killings called The Alphabet Murders. With potential murderers hovering all about, even the attentive Marcello begins to look suspicious.


Starting with a catchy pop tune and punctuated by jazzy rythyms instead of a Les Baxter horror score, The Girl Who Knew Too Much is a fast-paced succession of moody surprises. Bava's intensely dramatic lighting is used throughout, but the key terror scene on the steps has a 'you-are-there-and-you're-all-alone' quality that only comes with superior direction. This beginning is less gothic than realistic, even with its chilling ripple-glass POV shots. It's more like Jack Garfein's Something Wild, than Jack the Ripper.

Leticia Roman is a bright and vivacious heroine. She's on camera most of the time, and carries the film winningly. Of course, in this original version, she's an American tourist who speaks very good Italian! The supporting cast is excellent, particularly the ambivalent reporter Landini (Dante DePaolo) who sketches extremes of Sinister, Plaintive, and Pathetic in a just a few brief strokes. Valentina Cortese (remembered from Jules Dassin's Thieves' Highway) is also excellent. John Saxon is both stalwart and physically maladroit, as the script demands, and has a strong presence, even if he's the least expressive of the cast.

Nora has her share of terrified moments, but the overall tone of the film is light, and sometimes comedic. The humor isn't in clever dialog (perhaps an Italian speaker could contradict this) but in Nora's slightly scattered reaction to the oddball Nancy Drew - like mystery complications that press in upon her. Since she does not witness much of the menace we see (particularly the stalker), Nora's rather blithe acceptance of potential jeopardy is believable. Most of them turn out to be the kind of false impressions her doctors warn her about. Bava communicates many of these visually, as with the cluster of Nun headgear that unfold like a flower to reveal Nora in bed. At first menacing, they gracefully withdraw, like a benign dream memory.

But the genesis of giallo is here too. Concussed and reeling on the wet cobblestones, Nora wears one of those shiny European slicker rain-jackets, an erotic clash of textures (wet stones, rubber coat, glowing flesh and hair) wrapped like candy for a sex killer. Nora makes eye contact with the knifing victim through a mental haze that suggests the possibility that she is indeed hallucinating. The knife is pulled from the victim's back with a bone-and-gristle effort, the kind of detail murder mystery fans like Nora are accustomed to imagining.

Showing both wisdom and taste, Bava lets this arresting scene color the rest of the film, which constantly threatens to explode into similar violence but instead opts for suspenseful deflation of one situation after another. Like an immature girl detective, Nora turns the apartment into a maze of crisscrossed string, and spreads talcum powder over the floor, to thwart unseen killers in the night. Naturally the wrong victim falls into her trap, but there's always the feeling that real menace is imminent. Every time Bava shows Leticia Roman's wide-eyed face, dreading what may be in the dark, the fear becomes real again. Away from vampires and zombies, Bava's inimitable closeups, favoring unusually wide, white eyes, are arresting just by themselves - there's a basic visual link from this film to Blood and Black Lace, with its emphasis on glamourous, but often dead and glassy, eyes.

Equally surprising, and evidence that these Italian thrillers were always more adult than the cut versions shown here in the States, is some amusing drug humor that opens and closes the film. Bava introduces the clear MacGuffin of a suspicious pack of cigarettes right at the outset, introducing an obvious motive for the murders. Bava's droll Anti-Hitchcock handling of this thread shows a playful intelligence we didn't expect, and a better understanding of light spoofery than a 'lowly horror director' like Bava is usually given credit for.


Image's DVD of The Girl Who Knew Too Much is a very handsome presentation. The 16:9 enhanced B&W images are clean and clear, bringing out the 'coloration' in what was Mario Bava's last monochromatic movie. The sound is also without defect. Tim Lucas' scrupulously informed liner notes are simply excellent, and make one even more impatient for his long-anticipated book on Bava. This is the Italian version, La ragazza che sapeva troppo, and the audio is all Italian, with removeable English subs. As with other films rescored and dubbed by AIP, even if the American English tracks were to be made available (no way), they wouldn't fit. Savant hasn't seen the AIP version, The Evil Eye, but Cinematheque member Gary Teetzel reports that it is different, as reported in Video Watchdog. Not only are the references to marijuana missing, but different comedy moments were shot and added. In one such revision, Nora undressing is 'witnessed' by a framed photo, that changes expression between shots as in a Preston Sturges comedy. Although fans are quick to point out the the man in the photo is Bava himself, the gag isn't missed.

The Girl Who Knew Too Much is yet another original direction in the career of Mario Bava being unearthed in Image's series of Bava DVD's. A lighter, more varied brand of thriller, it shows him quite capable of handling mainstream material, as he invents the giallo before our very eyes.



On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Girl Who Knew Too Much rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound:Excellent
Supplements: Trailer, still & poster gallery, text info
Packaging: Snapper case
Reviewed: October 5, 2000


Footnotes:

1. GIALLO is a generic name given to Euro horror films involving grisly murders and maniacs, usually organized as whodunnits but later elaborated by directors like Dario Argento into garishly stylized, sometimes plotless murder tales. Typical components: alienated characters, first-person subjective camera, pitiless and efficient killers, an emphasis on wildly unlikely but horrifyingly graphic dismemberment by exotic means. Giallo means yellow, the color used on Italian murder thriller book covers. Visually, Giallos tend to evoke the glossy, erotic look of Italian fashion and architecture magazines: sleek modern settings, killers in black leather coats wielding knives in designer gloves. Argento's first, The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, puts all the icons together in its key murder locale, a glass-enclosed modern art gallery, where a giant glass sculpture becomes a horrible murder weapon. Mario Bava started it all with Blood and Black Lace, in which beautiful fashion models seem to be being brutally killed just because they are beautiful and fashionable women.Return





DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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