Synopsis: Bava’s fourth film as credited director was his first contemporary narrative, a slyly Hitchcockian thriller that scholars cite as the first true giallo. Leticia Roman stars as an American tourist in Rome who witnesses a serial killer’s latest slaying and convinces a charming young doctor (John Saxon) to help her investigate the city’s ‘Alphabet Murders’.
Co-written by Bava and his final feature shot in black & white, its inventive camerawork, masterful compositions and wily humor combine to create one of the most surprising and satisfying film in Il Maestro’s career.
eyelights: its Hitchcockian flair. its setting. its gorgeous camera work.
eyesores: its lapses in logic. its unlikely resolution.
“What you saw was not an illusion.”
1963’s ‘La ragazza che sapeva troppo’ is an influential picture that’s now regarded as the first giallo film. For his fourth official motion picture (“official” in that he’d co-directed, substituted and did additional filming on many others), Mario Bava worked with more Hitchcockian fodder.
The plot is simple: Nora Davis, a young American on vacation in Rome, believes she’s witnessed a woman being murdered by a mysterious man. Unfortunately, her claims aren’t taken seriously, as the police believe that she was blind drunk and her doctors think she’s a hysteric.
Though she begins to second-guess herself, especially due to a fertile imagination stoked by her love of crime novels, she finds herself stalked by a shadowy figure, receives strange phone calls, and discovers that the incident may be the latest in a series of “Alphabet murders”.
And that she may be next.
Interestingly, though ‘La ragazza che sapeva troppo’ is considered a landmark film, its existence is merely happenstance: Bava was apparently considering retiring from directing at the time but was encouraged by the producers of American International Pictures to take this on.
It was also originally intended to be more of a romantic comedy, but the project morphed as it started production, becoming more akin to some of Hitchcock’s lighter suspense fare – it even includes a cameo by Bava and its North American title is ‘The Girl Who Knew Too Much’.
It’s an unarguably entertaining picture, but what makes it especially enticing is the black and white photography: Bava took advantage of the splendour of Rome’s architecture to give the movie a greater scope; the palaces, mansions, and breathtaking piazzas are quite a sight.
There’s no place like Rome.
The performances, however, aren’t as stellar: this was Letícia Román’s first starring vehicle and her performance is rather exaggerated – as were some of the supporting players’. Thankfully, since the movie is subtitled, most eyes will be too distracted for this to be truly irritating.
John Saxon, however, is always enjoyable and he’s a good co-star; he brings enough charm to make up for the others’ amateurishness. Sadly, since it’s an Italian picture, his voice is overdubbed and none of the words match his lip movement, making his scenes a slightly surreal affair.
Though ‘La ragazza che sapeva troppo’ is a thriller, the mystery at its core is convoluted and defies logic; it hinges on a few absurd notions (ex: a stranger trying to revive Nora with alcohol, or that crime novels could infect Nora’s imagination). In real life, it wouldn’t really hold water.
But it nonetheless delivers some spectacular moments, like Nora’s confused witnessing of the crime or her decision to spider-web the house in order to trap the person skulking outside. The delivery often defies logic, but these elaborate set pieces leave an imprint on one’s memory.
In fact, if one is able to overlook its contrivances in much the same way as one does for the likes of ‘North by Northwest‘ or ‘Charade’, then it’s certainly possible to enjoy ‘La ragazza che sapeva troppo’ for what it is: a stylish whodunnit that doesn’t look back as it barrels onward.
It may not have been well received at the time, but it’s a memorable ride.
Date of viewing: June 11, 2017