• Gabe Powers

The Girl Who Knew Too Much (The Evil Eye) Blu-ray Review (originally published 2015)

While vacationing in Italy, a young woman with a passion for crime fiction (Letícia Román) witnesses a brutal murder. With the help of a handsome young doctor (John Saxon), she launches her own investigation and uncovers a series of crimes known as the ‘Alphabet Murders,’ only to realize that she may be next on the killer’s list. (From Kino’s official synopsis)



Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (Italian: La ragazza che sapeva troppo, 1963) is often cited as the first in a long line of Italian giallo films. I tend to use this shorthand myself. However, the truth is that it’s nearly impossible to track such a milestone, because the designation giallo (plural gialli) is as difficult to define as “slasher” or “psychological thriller.” There are too many subjective variables to nail down the exact moment the subgenre was born or which filmmaker christened the term. If “Italian-made thriller” is a valid genre measurement, then the tradition extends back to 1943 and Luchino Visconti’s neorealist adaptation of James M. Cain’s 1934 novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, titled Ossessione. If future genre trademarks, like black-gloved killers, luridly colorful photography, and extended murder set pieces are required, then Bava’s own Girl Who Knew Too Much follow-up, Blood and Black Lace (Italian: Sei donne per l'assassino, 1964), might fit the bill more comfortably. In the end, it’s probably safest to think of The Girl Who Knew Too Much as the chain link that connects Hitchcock, Hollywood noir, and German expressionism to Blood and Black Lace.


If we do separate The Girl Who Knew Too Much from what would become gialli as defined by Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Italian: L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo, 1970), then it emerges as a sometimes awkward misinterpretation and loving tribute to Hollywood suspense, specifically Hitchcock’s work, as indicated by the Italian title, which is a nod to The Man Who Knew Too Much (filmed by Hitchcock in 1934 and 1956). Even the use of black & white photography, once merely a cost-saving measure, was a justifiable creative option in the wake of Psycho’s (1960) enormous popularity. Narrative-wise, Bava and his army of co-writers (including Enzo Corbucci, Ennio de Concini, Eliana DeSabata, Mino Guerrini, and Franco E. Prosperi) borrowed plot/character elements from The Man Who Knew Too Much (among others) – such as a protagonist on vacation in foriegn country, who takes on the mantle of amateur detective – that quickly became giallo standbys, especially after Argento recycled them himself, eventually creating a perpetual feedback loop until, like all Italian cinema fads, the gialli burned out.



Italy’s cinematic culture of stealing ideas was originally considered quite gauche, branding decades worth of the region’s genre work as cheap imitation. Fortunately, critical retrospect has changed these once conventional opinions. Now, the quirky and passionate Italian versions of Hollywood stories can be admired for the alterations they make to formulaic concepts (usually political or stylistic). Still, whenever a new genre struck the Italian’s fancy – be it peplum (sword and sandal), spaghetti western, poliziotteschi (Eurocrime), or giallo – they tended to make too many movies to realistically consider. Takes time for the cream to rise to the top. The earliest films in each genre tend to be mere shadows of their more famous counterparts. As the first in a long line of Hitchcock-inspired thrillers, The Girl Who Knew Too Much is thematically flustered, in large part because Bava’s attention is so rigidly focused on the visual components. Those visuals, gorgeous though they may be (and I want to make it entirely clear that this is one of the most attractive black & white thrillers ever made), were not as innovative as the saturated glory of Blood and Black Lace.


Detached from the Hitchockian masterpieces that inspired it and the short-lived giallo revolution it helped to bolster, The Girl Who Knew Too Much is among Bava’s most overlooked and plainly entertaining movies. The man himself reportedly complained about the narrative’s dependence on so many convoluted coincidences, while some critics have objected to its tonal inconsistencies (visual and thematic), but these two supposed damning elements end up neutralizing each other – as if cognitive dissonance was the intent. Truthfully, Bava was struggling with the material and unsure of what movie he was making. As the story unravels, he shifts from screwball comedy to gothic horror, to suspense, to Italian travel log, to romance, to surrealistic dream logic, and back again with little warning. This can be jarring, especially for viewers not already inoculated to the Italian brand of mystery storytelling, but also quite charming and the right choice for the film considering its instrumental part in defining a genre forever known for its baffling plots and form-over-function sensibilities.



Many of Bava’s early pictures were distributed in North America by American International Pictures. Most, if not all of them, were edited in one way or another – sometimes for violent content, sometimes for length, sometimes to delete cultural references Americans might not get – but the most controversial alterations were made to the structures of movies, most notably Black Sabbath (Italian: I tre volti della paura, 1963), which had exclusive additional footage shot for it’s North American release. The Girl Who Knew Too Much, which was re-titled The Evil Eye (coincidentally, this was the original script title for Lucio Fulci’s Manhattan Baby [1982]), is a particularly curious case in this regard. Firstly, the AIP cut is actually longer than the Italian cut. In his book, Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark (Video Watchdog, 2007), Bava biographer Tim Lucas explains that there was an unusually long year-long break between the film’s completion (1962) and release (1963), and theorizes that the additional Evil Eye sequences were reshot by Bava himself. With this in mind, he argues that, unlike the other AIP edits, The Evil Eye is “more expressive of Bava’s own personality” and possibly the superior version of the movie.


I’m not sure if either version of the film had a VHS release in the US, besides the double-dupe bootlegged copies sold via the back pages of Fangoria and Gorezone magazines. All previous DVD versions featured the Italian cut with Italian dialogue, so this Blu-ray and its UK counterpart Arrow mark the first time many North American fans have even seen the North American version. Despite the awkwardly censoring of references to narcotics (though the references themselves were sort of awkward in the first place), The Evil Eye is a surprisingly funny movie with significantly more character development and features the more likable/relatable central character, in part because it’s version of Nora is a bit of a goofball. It’s arguably more organically edited than the Italian version, which feels clipped wherever exposition is required, and includes a cute scene where a portrait of Bava himself reacts to Letícia Román’s skimpy negligee. She then refers to the portrait as a Peeping Tom and covers it with her sheer robe.



Video

The Girl Who Knew Too Much was first released on DVD via Image Entertainment for their Mario Bava Collection. That black & white, anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer was reused (more or less) by Anchor Bay for their Mario Bava Collection. It was a satisfactory transfer, but was too bright, kind of flat, and generally limited by SD compression. Kino Lorber was beaten to the punch on the Blu-ray front by Arrow, who released it in the UK last November, but this does mark its North American, RA HD home video debut (the film reportedly appeared on Turner Classic Movies in HD in 2002). Both Kino and Arrow’s releases include the International and AIP cuts on a single disc as two completely different files (i.e. there is no branching option). What you see in the sliders above is comparisons between Kino’s Evil Eye cut (left) and The Girl Who Knew Too Much cut (right). Every other cap is taken from The Evil Eye and does not have a counterpart in The Girl Who Knew Too Much.


Overall, both 1080p transfers are clear upgrades over the DVD versions. The AIP cut is slightly over-cropped at 1.78:1, but comes out ahead in terms of cleanliness and even tones. The cleanliness facilitates tighter edges without overwhelming the basic grain texture and the subtle gradations reveal more dynamic range, especially in wide-angle shots. The Italian cut is correctly framed at 1.66:1, but is less consistent (grain levels fluctuate and sometimes mess up detail fidelity) and features slightly more protracted print damage artifacts (both versions include plenty of spots and scratches). However, the harsher blacks and whites of the Italian cut’s more dynamic contrast levels might be preferable. Besides strengthening shadows and edges, it just fits what I assume Bava intended with his evocative and frightening photography. In the end, it’s sort of a toss-up between the AIP version’s crisper detail and cleaner textures and the Italian version’s expressionistic, albeit dirtier image.



Audio

The uncompressed, LPCM 2.0 mono soundtracks are divided between each cut of the film – the AIP cut features an English dub and the Italian cut features an Italian dub. It is important to note that both tracks are dubs, because the film was shot without sound, like almost all Italian films from the era. That said, most of the actors are clearly speaking English on set. The Evil Eye track features Saxon and (I believe) Robert Buchanan dubbing themselves. The English dialogue tracks are consistent, though slightly muffled, like similar ADR dubs. Effects are minimal, especially environmental ambience, leaving a lot of completely blank space between conversations, but the sound floor is ‘low’ and buzz is rarely a problem. The Italian dialogue is similarly aged, a little quieter, but also more dynamic. The effects on the Italian track are also livelier – as in the outdoor environments actually have life to them – though still not particularly punchy.


The Italian score was provided by Bava regular Roberto Nicolosi and the Evil Eye score was filled out by AIP regular Les Baxter. Baxter’s music is more nonstop (to the point of exhaustion in some cases) and conventional. It hit some very high volume levels without distortion. Nicolosi’s score is used more sparingly and more appropriate to the material, but is mixed low enough on the track that it sometimes goes missing. In addition, the Italian version includes a theme song titled “Furore,” written by Adriano Celentano and Paolo Vivarelli (as Adicel & Vivarelli), and sung by Celentano. The song made an appearance more recently in Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani’s ode du gialli, Amer (2009).



Extras

  • Commentary with Bava biographer Tim Lucas – This track previously appeared on the Anchor Bay DVD release. Like all of Lucas’ commentaries, this one is obligatory listening for anyone interested in Bava’s career. Here, the author breaks down just about every aspect of the movie, including the careers of the major cast & crew, various technical processes, Easter eggs, critical responses, the film’s historical context, and comparisons between the Italian and AIP cuts.

  • Trailer


The images on this page are taken from the BDs, then sized for the page, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Full-sized .jpg versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab.


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