The Girl Who Knew Too Much, 1963.
Directed by Mario Bava.
Starring Letícia Román, John Saxon, Valentina Cortese and Titti Tomaino.
A young tourist becomes involved in a police investigation after witnessing a murder by a notorious serial killer.
His final black-and-white production, Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much sees the Italian director paying respect to Alfred Hitchcock – from the tongue-in-cheek title to certain elements of the film itself – whilst inadvertently setting a template for others to follow and creating the sub-genre known as the giallo (the Italian word for yellow, the colour of the pages of pulpy crime novels). Not bad for a mystery thriller that comes and goes in 86 minutes with barely any fat on it whatsoever.
Nora Davis (Letícia Román) is a tourist with a penchant for reading murder mysteries who travels to Rome to stay with her elderly aunt and immediately things start to look a little weird when the friendly man she is sat next to on the plane is arrested at the airport for apparently smuggling drugs. When Nora arrives at her aunt’s house she is greeted by Dr. Marcello Bassi (John Saxon), who goes through her aunt’s health problems with her before leaving the house. During a storm that night Nora’s aunt dies and, running outside to fetch help, Nora is mugged and, just before passing out, witnesses the murder of a woman, the latest victim of the so-called Alphabet Killer. After Nora wakes up the police try to convince her that she must have imagined the murder due to her reading too many crime novels but Nora is not convinced and it soon becomes apparent that the prove it to the authorities.
Surprisingly light-hearted in tone, The Girl Who Knew Too Much keeps the horror side of things at bay – Dario Argento would continue the Giallo in that vein a few years later – and goes for the suspense angle, helpfully dropping in all the right musical cues with a masterful use of shadow to create a tense and, at times, unnerving thriller that has as much style as it does substance.
Bava and his camera are the main stars here of course, but the film is helped in no short measure by the performances of Letícia Román and John Saxon, whose sizzling chemistry when they’re on-screen together is the stuff of quality filmmaking that you can’t fake. But when they’re not together, Letícia Román makes for a solid leading lady, her wide-eyed vulnerability and ballsy heroism making her a prototype for the scream queens that would follow over the next couple of decades.
Containing both Bava’s original movie and The Evil Eye, the American cut of the film that does away with the drugs references and changes the tone entirely, this lavish Blu-ray/DVD combo package also has a few good extras for fans to soak up, including an audio commentary by Bava biographer Tim Lucas, an introduction to the film by writer and Italian film expert Alan Jones, All About the Girl featurette where Alan Jones, Richard Stanley and Luigi Cozzi discuss The Girl Who Knew Too Much and its influence, an interview with John Saxon plus the usual trailers, Arrow Video reversible sleeve and collector’s booklet.
So it’s another quality re-release of a Mario Bava film to add to Arrow Video’s impressive catalogue. The film itself is quite a fun romp for what, on the surface at least, looks like a serious crime thriller and considering where the giallo style of film would go in the next decade with the likes of Dario Argento, Umberto Lenzi and Lucio Fulci all upping the ante it’s quite a pleasant surprise how humorous and quirky the film can be. The use of a narrator to keep the audience up to speed is a little intrusive and unnecessary, and the ending of the film feels like a little bit of a cop out considering the way the story is set up, but otherwise The Girl Who Knew Too Much is very enjoyable and worthy of its reputation as an influential entry in Italian cinema.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★