Thursday, January 15, 2015

THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1963) (Arrow Video Blu-ray Review)

Label: Arrow Video
Region: B/2
Rating: 12 Certificate
Duration: 86/92 Minutes
Audio: English, Italian PCM 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles
Video: Widescreen(1.66:1), (1.78:1)
Audio: 2.0 Mono
Cast: Letícia Román, John Saxon, Valentina Cortese, Titti Tomaino, Luigi Bonos
Director: Mario Bava

Mario Bava was a master craftsmen and superb cinema technician who dabbled throughout his career in so many genres, from early Viking adventure films to the Gothic horror he came to be recognized for in the years to come. However, it is arguably this Hitchockican thriller from 1963 that inspired a string of stylish Italian murder mysteries  in the 1970s, it's influence can definitely be felt in the work of Dario Argento. What would become known as giallo films were really just crime thrillers with a few notable characteristics that set them apart. They would typically feature an a tourist in a foreign place who is somehow caught up in a string of gruesome murders, their amateur sleuthing putting themselves and their loved ones in danger. The films would also feature threatening phone calls made by the killer whom would usually wear a pair of black gloves while committing the murders, we do get the phone call in this film but black gloved murders would not appear until Bava's stylish thriller Blood and Black Lace just a few years later. 

Gialli are also noted for their stylish cinematography and gorgeous set pieces and scenic locations, plus abnormal psychological themes with the protagonist either questioning their own sanity of suspecting someone of madness. The actual term "giallo" means "yellow" in Italian, the genre having coined it's name from a series of popular paperback murder-mystery novels beginning in the 1940s featuring yellow covers.

All this brings us to Mario Bava's The Girl who Knew Too much (1963), widely considered one of the earliest examples of a giallo murder mysteries, if not the first. We have an American traveller Nora Davis (Letícia Román) arriving in Rome via jetliner from New York. She is there to visit her elderly aunt who is quite it, so ill in fact that she dies in her bed that very same night. The death unnerves Nora who is alone, her fear enhanced by spooky cat and a thunderstorm. She leaves the home during a rainstorm walking through the scenic Piazza di Spagna, on her way to the hospital to notify her aunt's physician of her death.  En route she is mugged and knocked to the ground unconscious, coming to a few moments later she witness the murder of a woman who has been stabbed in the back with a kitchen knife. A man emerges from the darkness and removes the knife as Nora collapses. The next morning she is found unconscious by the police, she tells them of the murder she witnessed but with no body or evidence to corroborate the account they attribute the story to either hysterics or drunkenness. Afterward Nora and her aunt's physician Dr. Marcello Bassi (John Saxon) strike up friendship while touring the sites of Rome which blossoms into a romance. 

Soon after while at the cemetery Nora meets her late aunt's neighbor Laura (Valentina Cortese) who invites her to stay at her home for the duration of her visit. While there she learns that Laura's sister was the third victim of a serial killer dubbed the Alphabet Killer who murdered three women with surnames that followed the alphabet. Alone in the home Nora receives a threatening phone call stating that "D is for death" and that she will be the next victim. Scared for her life Nora nonetheless begins to amateur slueth the identity of the murder which puts her on the trail of a crime reporter named Landini (Dante DiPaolo) which not unsurprisingly leads to more even questions and a feverish finale with the murderer revealing all!

The plot at times caused me to scratch my head quite a bit as the film does not always make sense, but I would argue that some of the most enjoyable Giallo films rarely do. It's matter of tension, aesthetic and style and I would say that The Girl Who Knew Too Much falls into that category. 

Mario Bava was a master cinematographer and his use of black and white in this film is stunning throughout, the use of light and shadow is a thing of true beauty. Notably this would be Mario Bava's last film to be shot in black and white which is almost a crime, thankfully his use of color was just as breathtaking, in fact he shot the Gothic The Whip and the Body right before this one.

John Saxon and Leticia Roman are pretty great in their roles, the wide-eyed blond does fine as the sympathetic woman caught up in a murder mystery, and John Saxon is always a pleasure onscreen, he was quite a handsome man and adds an element of humor to the film. There's actually quite a bit of mischievous humor to be found throughout which is not surprising seeing as how the film was intended to be a romantic comedy of sorts. Honestly, there might be a few too many scenes of Saxon and Roman traipsing around Rome for my taste, a few of these scenes to drag the film down from time to time. 

The film is hugely influential as noted previously and set the standard for gialli to come for a decade, some might say that Mario Bava may have ignited the genre but that Dario Argento fans the flames to perfection with his films The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and Deep Red (1975), the former which borrows quite a bit from this gem, which I won't go into for fear of spoiling the revelation. 

If youre love of Italian murder mysteries begins and ends with Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci you might be a bit disappointed with the lack of blood, gore and sex - this is a pretty chaste film - but you will get the stylish cinematography and other earmarks - minus the black leather gloves - of the films you have come to love from the seventies. 

Blu-ray: The Blu-ray from Arrow Video is quite a treat, Mario Bava's black and white cinematography is gorgeous is sumptuous HD! We are treated to both the Italian version framed in 1.66;1 widescreen and the Us version which was re-scored and re-cut by American International Pictures, framed in 1.78;1 widescreen. The US version was re scored by composer Les Baxter, added a few additional scenes of humor, tagged on a new ending and removed references to marijuana, and it replaced the male narration with that of Nora, which I think worked quite well. Aside from the slight aspect ratio adjustment, the new score and the re-cut there are some differences in the image quality as well. The Italian version is darker and granier while the US version is a few shades lighter, losing some of the shadow detail but it does offer up more fine detail overall. It's a toss-up in my opinion but I think I prefer the image quality of the US in addition to . 

Onto the other features we have an introduction from by writer and critic Alan Jones, a new documentary All About the Girl directed by Calum Waddell It features interviews with directors Luigi Cozzi (The Killer Must Kill Again) and Richard Stanley (Dust Devil), plus authors Alan Jones (Profondo Argento) and Mikel Koven (La Dolce Morte) whom reflect fondly and directly on Mario Bava’s classic giallo. I was quite pleased to see the inclusion of Richard Stanley on the set, this guy needs to make more movies!

Carried over from the previous Anchor Bay release we have an  audio commentary by Mario Bava’s biographer Tim Lucas, author of Mario Bava - All the Colors of the dark. At times it can sound like he's reading straight from his book but it jam-packed with information and trivia including the differences between the two versions of the film. Another carry-over is the interview with star John Saxon who reflects on his career at the time and experiences on the film, mentioning reason why Mario Bava may not have cared for him. 

This is a pretty great set with excellent picture quality, I love that Arrow Video are lavishing Mario Bava with definitive editions the very same way they did Dario Argento in years past, these are the must-own Mario Bava releases, and those Kino releases here in the US do not even come close to matching what Arrow have assembled - these are truly some serious labors of love. 

Special Edition
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of two versions of the film: The Girl Who Knew Too Much – the original Italian version; and Evil Eye – the re-edited and re-scored US version prepared by American International Pictures
- Original uncompressed 2.0 mono PCM audio for both versions
- Optional English subtitles for The Girl Who Knew Too Much
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for Evil Eye
- Audio commentary by Mario Bava’s biographer Tim Lucas
- Introduction by writer and critic Alan Jones (4 Minutes)
- All About the Girl – Filmmakers Luigi Cozzi (The Killer Must Kill Again) and Richard Stanley (Dust Devil), alongside authors Alan Jones (Profondo Argento) and Mikel Koven (La Dolce Morte) reflect on Mario Bava’s classic giallo (22 Minutes)
- International trailer (4 Minutes) 

- John Saxon Interview (10 Minutes)
- US trailer (2 Minutes) 
- 2 DVDs containing the Italian and US version of the film
- Reversible Sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
- Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Kier-La Janisse

Verdict: The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963) is really the film that sparked the Giallo craze of the 1970's, begun by Mario Bava here and polished with Blood and Black Lace (1964) before being perfected by Argento a few years later. Considered by many a minor Mario Bava film it should not be overlooked by fans of whodunit murder mysteries and the Italian gialli, this is a classy piece of cinema and a top-notch thriller.