Monday, 16 April 2012

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

Hailed by critics and movie buffs as the first giallo movie in cinema history, Mario Bava's "The Girl Who Knew Too Much" (or "La ragazza che sapeva troppo") takes it's title from critically acclaimed Hitchcock's thriller "The Man Who Knew Too Much". Beyond any doubt Bava was inspired by Hitchcock's movies praising mainly "Psycho" as a genre breakthrough, which set it's print on many 60's thrillers and horrors – American and European ones. This legendary film was also his fourth and final movie shot in black & white as one year later he'd go fully Technicolor with another exuberant giallo classic – "Blood & Black Lace", where he'd pull out all the stops creating genre history. But it's here, where he made a giallo statement juggling with pulp fiction sleaze in order to reinvent the art of screen terror and setting a blueprint for the next 300 Italian productions. From this perspective "The Girl Who Knew Too Much" is a really exceptional achievement.

The girl's name is Nora Davis (Leticia Roman) and she's just flying over to Rome from United States, flipping through pages of another giallo novel. Her auntie is sick and she's looking forward to meeting her, unfortunately she dies shortly after Nora's arrival, in the middle of the night. Shocked by this sudden occurence, she tries desperately to get a doctor on the phone and then runs to the hospital stomping on spiral stairs of Piazza di Spagna, but she gets knocked by a thief and lands unconscious on the pavement. When she finally comes to her senses a weird murder is being committed right before her eyes. But when she reports it to the police, they cannot investigate as apparently no harm was done... at least as far as they know. Driven by viral giallo fantasies she goes after the mystery herself and forces her auntie's personal doctor, Marcello Bassi (John Saxon) to help her out. That leads to a series of unexpected events and final encounter with malevolent Alphabet Murderer.

Emotionally vibrant with carefully paced, oniristic narration, "The Girl Who Knew Too Much" is an extraordinary film calling for multiple viewing. Many can be said about Bava's inventive camerawork, master shadow play catch and stunning photography. Even Furore – movie's main theme, sung by Adriano Celentano, helps to lay a roaring vibe on Bava's story from a first frame, which shows an aeroplane high in the clouds. All the elements and licks play along just fine smoothly carrying the action ahead. Acting performances are strong and certainly well caught on camera. As John Saxon couldn't speak Italian, this is also first giallo featuring full Italian dubbing and first giallo to bring drugs to the screen. A puff of marijuana cigarette and Nora is high, confused about what is real and what is a fantasy, which serves Bava as an opening bracket of the story and as a closing one too. After the climax she conceives in her mind, that it all could have been just a weed dream. Stoner movie? Well, let's not get that far.

As the first giallo, Bava's movie was actually paving the way, but as this step on the moon was promptly overturned by "Blood & Black Lace", it never got ripped off by director's devotees such as Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Sergio Martini or the others. Paradoxically, the structure of the latter one was grabbed, successfully tweaked and polished, eventually evolving into a point of occult thriller or satanic slasher (depends on the artist), where a form became everything, pushing sound screenplay aside. While "The Girl Who Knew Too Much" seems a fairytale in par to later attainments of Italians, it's much closer to European New Wave in terms of film expression than Bava's later works. Especially exterior shots resemble Fellini's and Antonioni's hunt for catching the nature of the game. A truly artistic B-movie, which skillfuly balances taste and thrills. Definitely a must-see for giallo greenies and completists, who somehow missed it.

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