Released under the misleading title and ad campaign as The Evil Eye to stress the film's quasi-supernatural element, Mario Bava's last black & white film, La ragazza che sapeva troppo / The Girl Who Knew Too Much, is a really a weird hybrid of black comedy, Agatha Christie mystery, and prenatal giallo (some of it co-written by future Mondo Cane co-director, Franco Prosperi).
The first hour exploits a clever hook - an American girl who reads too many mysteries may have witnessed a murder or smoked too much dope - and with a cheeky narrator, Bava successfully derives comedic touches from levels of paranoia experienced by the film's kooky heroine, Nora (played Leticia Roman, a dead ringer for a blonde and more gamine-like Barbara Steele).
As seemed to be the convention for Italian thrillers for the next twenty years, Bava had an American actor playing the love interest who may or may not be involved in a crime that veers, at the film's precise midpoint, towards a series of implausible, ridiculous twists endemic of a standard giallo. (Click HERE for a demo giallo plot.)
Most of the actors spoke their dialogue in English (it's easy to read their lips), but the Italian dubbing improves upon the wan English script, and Bava really has fun with some visual gags, like a collection of nun head gear that smothers the screen and breaks apart like paper boats in a pond to reveal poor Nora, lying in a hospital bed after her first traumatic night in Rome. Bava also gets creative with shadows, and he reverses the old dimly lit hallway cliché by having Nora walk down a bright white hallway, with rows of bare light bulbs swinging in the wind.
Using a less broad widescreen ratio, Bava's compositions are still perfect, and he really exploits the physical beauty of his two leads with intense close-ups, including a beach scene that riffs Roger Vadim's framing of Brigitte Bardot in CinemaScope. The scene also marks another abrupt narrative and tonal leap in the film's second half, and signals Bava's technique of injecting some playful humour when he knew the structural cracks of the script were starting to weaken.
For the DVD, Image used a decent widescreen print that has a few wear marks, and some static patterns in some daylight shots, during the couple's tour of gorgeous Rome. The sound mix is quite clean, and Bruno Nicolai's score perfectly suits the film's contemporary setting, with some discreet jazz inflections in an otherwise solid suspenseful score.
Like the I Vampiri DVD, some of the images in the still gallery reveal a few scenes not in the final film, and there's a trailer for the main feature. Only qualms: the U.S. version, with a new score and scenes added by distributor AIP, remains unavailable, and should have been included with this release for posterity, and to preserve the voices of the English actors.
This title is part of a Mario Bava wave from Image that includes I Vampiri, Black Sunday, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Black Sabbath, Five Dolls for an August Moon, Twitch of the Death Nerve (Bay of Blood), Baron Blood, Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Lisa and the Devil, and House of Exorcism.
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan