1963’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much is a perfect introduction to the Italian giallo genre since it’s considered by many as the very first. The movie was filmed in English, dubbed in Italian, and then given English subtitles (???). An alternative version was released a year later by American International Pictures called The Evil Eye. The movie’s original English language was kept in, but the film was edited to give it more of a comedic spin. This is not that version.
“The girl” in this story is Nora (Letícia Román), a young woman who travels to Italy to visit her ailing aunt, who’s being treated by Dr. Marcello Bassi (John Saxon). Her aunt passes away one night, so Nora decides to walk to the hospital since the phones aren’t working. On her way there, she is mugged and knocked unconscious. When she wakes up, she sees a woman across the way staggering with a knife in her back. Nora quickly hides when she sees an older man come up behind the woman and pull the knife out. She goes to the police to tell her story, but they think she imagined the whole thing, because everyone always thinks hysterical women are hallucinating in old movies.
Nora ends up staying at the home of one of her aunt’s friends, Laura (Valentina Cortese), who is about to go on vacation. While in the house alone, Nora comes across a box filled with newspaper clippings with articles detailing a serial killer dubbed the “Alphabet Killer”, due to him murdering his victims in alphabetical order. He’s already taken care of A, B, and C, so Nora fears that she’s next because her last name is Davis.
Certain plot points are a little muddled, like the whole alphabet premise, which turns out to be quite porous and lacks commitment. But most details add up and still manage to surprise us, even though the story shows its hand too early.
The two leads, Román and Saxon, have somewhat of an odd chemistry, but their growing relationship feels natural enough. Because of the Italian overdub, you would never notice, but it’s also interesting that Román plays an American, while Saxon plays an Italian, when in real life the opposite is true.
Directed by eventual giallo heavyweight, Mario Bava, The Girl Who Knew Too Much may use some of the best black and white shots I’ve seen. Bava has a knack for maximizing suspense with camera angles and his brilliant use of closeups–including those on Román’s wide-eyed reactions of terror, which make every moment even creepier.
Entering into the third act, the film seamlessly switches tones from murder mystery to horror, giving us a truly chilling climax. Taking inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock, Bava crafts a well thought-out story with each scene as gripping as the last. There’s a reason an entire sub-genre stemmed from this movie.
As my own first “giallo” experience as well, I’ll say that I’m excited where the genre is going to take me. The Girl Who Knew Too Much is a thrilling ride from start to finish, and in some moments just as frightening as something like Hitchcock’s Psycho.