It’s fair point. Classifying The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) as a horror movie is a stretch. It’s really more of a thriller in the vein of the work of Alfred Hitchcock. Like a Hitchcock thriller, it displays much of the style, suspense and stunning visuals. Directed by Mario Bava, this film holds another significance. Some cinephiles often point to this film as being the first film to truly encompass all of the traits associated with the Italian giallo film genre. Certainly the guys with tight jeans and waxed mustaches will call out more obscure examples of the genre, but this is the one that you need to know.
The Art of the Giallo
Those familiar with the style recognize a few common traits. These films almost always portray a faceless and nameless killer. The tale is often told form the perspective of a female protagonist. In many genre films, this woman is an outsider. Possibly she could be be a new student at a school, or in this case, a tourist. In many cases, the outsider gets sucked into a psychological game of cat and mouse between the killer and the protagonist.
Throughout the years, other directors not only replicated the formula, but expanded it. Through the 70’s and 80’s these films also became know for the most graphical violent kills and overt sexuality. The deceptions grew deeper, sometimes involving several layers of twists and turns. Right or wrong, many of these films are considered horror. Categorically, you would find them in the horror section of your local Blockbuster video. The legacy of giallo films make them wholly appropriate to review within the blood-drenched confines of Malevolent Dark.
With that bloviating preamble out of the way, on with the show.
A Cast of Beautiful People
The protagonist of the film, Nora Davis, is played by the stunning Leticia Román. When we say stunning, we mean that she draws all eyes in every frame that she graces. As a pleasant surprise, John Saxon plays the male lead, Dr. Marcello Bassi. Curiously, Saxon speaks perfect Italian. Together these two looked as if cut from the Style section of Playboy magazine. Together they make a dynamic duo commands every scene with grace and style.
Nora Davis, Outsider, Tourist
The film begins with Nora Davis arriving in Italy to stay her elderly aunt. She finds her aunt in the care of Dr. Marcello Bassi. Shortly after her arrival, her aunt dies of natural causes. Distraught, she tries to make her way to the local hospital to notify Dr. Bassi. On her way, she gets mugged and knocked out cold. When she comes to, she bears witness to the stabbing death of woman. A mysterious bearded man pulls a knife from her back before disappearing into the darkness. Try as she might, the police refuse to take her seriously. The giallo is afoot.
Mario Bava – Monochrome Extraordinaire
The triumph of this film begins with Bava’s decision to shoot the picture in black and white. He used this technique in Black Sunday to great affect. Bava absolutely crushes the technique in. Bava’s use of deep contrast, light and shadow make this film as much a work of art as is a tightly knit tale of murder and suspense. Mario Bava’s cinematography captures the beauty and expanse of Rome. The Girl Who Knew Too Much is technically brilliant and visually adept.
Most fans of giallo will concede that this film lacks much of what made the genre so popular in the 70’s and 80’s. The film showcases a relatively low number of kills, and those that occur are no more gory than an episode of the Twilight Zone. Not only does the film lack the sexual depravity of later gialli, it really avoids the topic of sex all-together. The relationship between Nora and Dr. Bassi is about as charged as 5 year old’s relationship with their Teddy Bear.
Honestly, The Girl Who Knew Too Much doesn’t exhibit the best example of what the genre would ultimately become. Regardless, the technical execution and fantastic performances by John Saxon and Leticia Román forges a smart thriller that literally jumps off the screen. Yet, despite its stripped down appearance, one can clearly see the bones of that directors like Dario Argento would construct classics like Tenebrae and Opera from.
Owing to its legacy, The Girl Who Knew Too Much deserves not only to be in the conversation of great horror films, but also the great films of all time.
The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) - An Outstanding Giallo - Malevolent Dark
Director: Mario Bava
Date Created: 1970-01-01 00:32