La ragazza che sapeva troppo (1963)

a.k.a. - The Evil Eye (USA)

John Saxon stars in Mario Bava's clever and well directed thriller. Anchor Bay US R0 DVD

The Film

Young American Nora Davis (Letícia Román), a fan of crime novels, travels to Rome to stay with a friend of her mother. While on the plane she accepts a cigarette from a man who is hauled away at the airport for carrying drugs. Arriving at the home of Ethel Windell Batocci, she finds the finds the elderly woman on her death bed, being attended to by Dr. Marcello Bassi (John Saxon) who is keen to show Nora around the city in his spare time. During the night Ethel dies and Nora rushes out to find Dr. Bassi but is mugged and collapses in a square. Awaking a while later she sees a woman with a knife in her back and a man carrying the body back into the house, she faints again and is awakened by a man who makes her drink from a hip-flask, he is interuppted by a policeman who smells the alcohol and presumes that Nora has been drinking, discounting her story, but she is convinced she saw a murder and starts to investigate a killing that happened in the square a decade earlier...

Co-written by Bava and his regular collaborator Ennio De Concini (who also worked on La maschera del demonio (1960)), La ragazza che sapeva troppo marks a major change in the director's output - stepping away from the fantasy and historical projects on which he had made his name, for a contemporary thriller. The storyline takes its inspiration from the classic murder mystery novels which were incredibly popular in Italy at the time and makes numerous references to these throughout. To emphasise this further a quite unusual third-party narration provides extra detail in a few scenes and is deliberately phrased like the narrative voice in a novel rather than the usual character based cinematic voice-overs (within the Euro-Cult pantheon it is perhaps most remniscent of the one-off voice-over at the opening of Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977)).

While Bava's better known Giallo prototype film Sei donne per l'assassino (1964) had a rather basic whodunnit plot, the storyline here is much more complex with a whole variety of clues and possibilities to keep the audience guessing, although unlike some of the later Gialli it does not rely on elaborate twists to keep things moving and the well paced build-up to the denoument is highly effective with some genuine tension in the later scenes. Although the inevitable hint of romance creeps in, it is surprisingly understated and does not get in the way of the main storyline. The only scene that seems out of place finds Nora on a beach in a bikini when she should be investigating, rather out-of-character and a sequence that seems to exist purely to provide some titilating lobby-card stills.

In the director's chair, Bava proves that he can be equally adept at a realistic, contemporary setting as he was in his earlier fantasy worlds. He uses the authentic Roman locations very well (avoiding the distractingly obvious matte-painting backed, stage-bound Parisian settings of his earlier project I Vampiri (1956)). Although some hints of the Giallo genre can be discerned in the storyline, Bava's direction harks back to the American thrillers of the 1940s and 50s - most notably in comparison to Sei donne per l'assassino with its determined focus on the machinations of the violent murders, the death scenes here are almost entirely off-camera and very simple knife-in-the-back affairs.

In a curious but effective casting choice, American actor John Saxon plays an Italian doctor while Italian actress Letícia Román plays the American lead. Saxon is very strong as the doctor, convincingly Italian he has enough gravitas to play a doctor despite his young age and convinces in the romantic scenes - Román is similarly good in a quite demanding role. Art-house star Valentina Cortese (La nuit américaine (1973)) gives a good turn as the friendly Laura Craven-Torrani who takes Nora in and the standard of acting is generally strong throughout.

Mario Bava would define the Giallo film the next year in Sei donne per l'assassino which would seem to make La ragazza che sapeva troppo the 'missing link' between Hitchcockian thrillers and the violent Italian take on the genre. However, there is little in this earlier production to herald the forthcoming Gialli, it is instead a well made but quite conventional Anglo-American style thriller, showing if anything what a radical departure Sei donne per l'assassino was, for audiences both in Italy and overseas. Certainly recommended for Bava fans, La ragazza che sapeva troppo might well appeal to fans of Hitchcock more than fans of the Giallo.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? John Saxon - American character actor who also starred in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Directed by anyone interesting? Mario Bava - would go on to direct Sei donne per l'assassino (1964), the inceptual Giallo film and is best known for his horror work, but in a long career directed everything from Westerns to Sci-fi.
Any gore or violence ? Minimal - the murders take place off-screen.
Any sex or nudity? None
Who is it for? Recommended for fans of Mario Bava and classic Hitchcock style thrillers. Certainly of interest to Giallo fans for historical reasons, although it is not really a Giallo film itself.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. Black and white.
The print is very grainy with some slight flickering but detail is very good.
Audio Italian mono - sounds good throughout.
Subtitles English subtitles for the Italian audio. Yellow.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio commentary with Bava biographer Tim Lucas, conveys a lot of interesting detail.
  • Interview with actor John Saxon (9 min).
  • Original theatrical trailers - Italian and American (the latter being for the 'Evil Eye' cut and including a few shots not present in the main film).
  • Image gallery - 25 promotional images and stills from the film.
  • Detailed biography of Mario Bava.
  • Bonus trailers for Black Sunday, Kill Baby Kill, Knives of the Avenger and Black Sabbath.
Availability Available on its own or in the The Mario Bava Collection Volume 1.
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? Previously released by Image in the US without special features, also available in Italy and France although without English options and no additional features.
Cuts? Fully uncut as per the original Italian theatrical version. The film was edited and released in a much more light hearted cut as Evil Eye by AIP in the US and subsequently in the UK using additional footage shot specifically for that release - this version is currently unavailable on DVD.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 20th September 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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