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LA RAGAZZA CHE SAPEVA TROPPO (1962)
Director/Cinematographer: Mario Bava
Story and Screenplay: Ennio De Concini, Bruno Corbucci, and Eliana De Sabata, with the collaboration of Mario Bava, Giorgio Prosperi, and Mino Guerrini
Camera Operator: Ubaldo Terzano
Editing: Mario Serandrei
Music: Roberto Nicolosi (U.S. version rescored by Les Baxter); Song "Furore," performed by Adriano Celentano
Main Players: Leticia Román (Nora Drowson); John Saxon (Dr. Marcello Bassi); Valentina Cortese (Laura Craven-Tierani); Gianni Di Benedetto (Professor Craven-Tierani); Jim Dolen (Priest); Lucia Modugno (Nurse); Luigi Bonos (Hotel Porter); Chana Coubert (Aunt Ethel); Dante Di Paolo (Andre Landini); Gustavo De Nardo (Inspector)
Alternate titles: The Girl Who Knew Too Much; Evil Eye (Re-edited English language version)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
SYNOPSIS:

Part dark comedy, part suspense thriller and part slasher film (though that term did not come into being until much later, even after Bava literally creates the genre in SEI DONNE PER L'ASSASSINO), LA RAGAZZA tells of Nora, a sexually frustrated American girl who journeys to Italy to visit her elderly Aunt Adele.

Arriving at her aunt's house following a distressing incident at the air port -- a man who befriends her on the flight is arrested for smuggling marijuana -- Nora is greeted by Dr. Marcello Bassi. Marcello warns Nora that her aunt is very ill, and that she needs absolute quiet and rest. After giving her instructions in case of an emergency, Marcello leaves. Nora is obviously smitten with him, and her comic ruminations on why he greeted her by kissing her hand ("I guess he has to kiss my hand since hes's an Italian") reveals her naďveté.

That same night, aunt Ethel dies of a heart attack, an act witnessed by Nora. After trying to phone Marcello, Nora flees the house in a panic. While running through the streets, she is attacked by a purse snatcher. In the ensuing struggle with the thief, Nora is knocked unconscious. A few hours later, she is awakened by a woman's scream. To her horror, Nora looks up and sees a woman collapsing to the ground, a knife in her back. She also sees a strange man crouching over the body. Nora then faints.

The next morning, Nora is discovered by a passing stranger, who attempts to awaken her by giving her some whiskey. Noticing that a policeman is appraching, the stranger flees. The policeman successfullt revives Nora, but the smell of liquor on her breath causes him to think that she is an alcoholic sleeping off a drunk. Ranting and raving about seeing a murder, Nora is shocked to discver that there is no body to be found. She is then amitted to a hospital for delirium tremors. Bava amusingly chronicles Nora's brief stay at the hospital, obviously poking fun at Hitchcock's favored situation of a man or a woman whose identity is grossly misinterpreted. Nora is rescued by Marcello, who happens to notice her while on one of his rounds.

After she is released from the hospital, Nora tells Marcello about what she saw. He is skeptical, preferring to believe that it was an hallucination brought on by the double shock of her aunt's death and the subsequent attack of the purse snatcher. Even so, Nora is convinced of what she saw and refuses to give up.

After the funeral services for her aunt, Nora meets Laura Craven-Tierani. Laura inroduces herself as a friend of Adele's, and she takes Nora to her house for some coffee. As she is going out of the country in a few days, so that she can visit her husband, Laura encourages Nora to stay and look after her house. Nora is initially reluctant, but her apprehension about returning to her aunt's house causes her to accept the offer.

During her first night at the house, Nora discovers a pile of old newspaper clippings. The articles all deal with a series of killings, including the brutal murder of Laura's sister. The articles state that Laura's sister, Emily Craven, was the latest in a string of "Alphabet Killings" (i.e., the first victim's last name began with the letter A, the second with the letter B, and so on). These facts cause Nora to suspect that, since her last name is Drowson, she might be the next target. Noticing that the articles were written by Andre Landini, she decides to seek out the journalist for assistance.

After several unsuccessful attempts at locating Landini, Marcello takes Nora to the beach for relaxation. Marcello's desires finally erupt and he practically forces himself on Nora. Though she is also interested in him, Nora encourages Marcello to wait for a more appropriate time to consummate their relationship. Upon their return to the Craven house, the are shocked to find a stranger waiting for them in the living room, The stranger is none other than Landini. He explains that he became obsessed with fining the Alphabet Killer, and that he collaborated with the police while writing articles on the killings. When the police arrested and convicted a man whom Landini knew to be innocent, he continued writing articles, using them as an opportunity to criticized the police. He lost his job as a result of this, but he has continued his investigation. Landini also explains that he was the one who tried to revive Nora with whiskey, and that he believes her to be the most likely target for the killer. For this reason, he has been following her ever since. Though Marcello does not trust Landini, Nora agrees to collaborate with him.

The following day, Nora goes to meet Landini at his apartment. She is perplexed to find that the sounds of typing emanating from his room are actually being played on a tape recorder, and when she finds a photo of herself labeled as "Fourth Victim," she becomes convinced that he is the murderer. However, the matter seems to resolve itself when she finds Landini's body, an apparent suicide, with a note of confession by his side.

That same night, Laura returns. Nora and Marcello plan to go to the United States the following morning, and Nora agrees to spend one more night in the Craven house. That night, when Laura is apparently out, Nora notices that the study door is open. Especially since Laura had earlier remarked on how her husband insists that it be kept locked, Nora cannot resist the temptation to investigate. Upon opening the door, Nora sees a man rising uncomfortably from a chair. He then collapses to the floor, a knife in his back. Nora attempts to flee, but is stopped by Laura. Crazed with anger, Laura confesses to the killings, revealing that the entire "alphabet system" was a hoax intended to detract attention from her real motive: the desire to acquire her sister's money compelled her to murder. However, the thrill of killing has become too great, and Laura can no longer control herself. Before she can act again, however, she is shot to death by her dying husband, whom she murdered when he threatened to turn her over to the police.

The film ends with Marcello and Nora being happily reunited. Marcello asks Nora for a cigarette, but after she gives him one, she is reminded of an important incident. On her flight to Rome, she had accepted a pack of cigarettes from the man who was subsequently arrested for smuggling marijuana. On the night of her aunt's death, she had accidentally smoked one of these cigarettes. Consequently, she had interpreted the situation incorrectly. Though she witnessed an actual killing, her blurred memory confused the facts. The man she had seen at the scene of the crime was Laura's husband, but he was not the killer, as she had previously maintained -- he was merely disposing of the evidence. When she comes to realize this, she crushes Marcello's cigarette and tosses the pack over the balcony. They are picked up by a passing priest. The End. (The American version concludes with Nora promising Marcello that she will never mention that subject of murder again. As she promises this, an enraged man shoots his girlfriend and her lover to death. The act is witnessed by Nora, who acts oblivious to the incident in order to please Marcello).


CRITIQUE:

"Though not the first thriller to be made in Italy (that honor seems to belong to CORTOCIRCUITO, 1943, directed by Giacomo Gentilomo), LA RAGAZZA was nevertheless the first to introduce explicitly horrific aspects to the proceedings and, as such, can be considered the true starting point of the giallo. Though an efficient, stylish and enjoyable mystery-thriller, LA RAGAZZA CHE SAPEVA TROPPO nevertheless shies away from the more disturbing aspects of the giallo film. In his later thrillers, Bava stocks the narrative with sordid, untrustworthy characters and emphasizes irony and a strain of disturbing, reflexive psychology over the basic mechanics of mystery plotting. With his next giallo, SEI DONNE PER L'ASSASSINO, Bava finally pushes the idea of voyeurism (an idea explored for the first time by Bava in this film) the kind of chilling, intensely personal treatment it needs. By contrast, LA RAGAZZA is merely interested in keeping the viewer guessing -- it is a more superficial enterprise in every sense. At the end of it all, marks a true starting point. It is a watershed movie, but it lacks the brilliance of the director's best work.

The American version, again altered by AIP, is significantly different from Bava's original cut. In addition to substituting Roberto Nicolosi's original score in favor of a Les Baxter soundtrack, added comedic scenes (including a rare cameo by Bava, which is not present in the European edition) render the overall tone much lighter. An important plot point is also dubbed out of existence since it deals with the too-hot-to-handle subject of marijuana! Bava had no input in the final assembly of this version -- known as EVIL EYE -- and so it can be claimed that this edition is not a genuine Mario Bava film.

Bava's obsession with surface appearance is evident throughout LA RAGAZZA. Nora's naďveté makes her suspect all men of being dangerous. In her paranoid mind, only women can be trusted. Bava delights in deflecting these paranoid prejudices by revealing the killer to be Laura, while Nora is rescued at the end by Laura's dying husband, the man whom she had believed to be the murderer. The sunny, idyllic city of Rome, with its history of artistic innovation and romance, seems to be the safest place in the world -- particularly to a naive American like Nora. This is yet another view point which is shattered by the end of the film. As Nora discovers, not all men are evil, nor can all women be trusted. Likewise, the people of Rome are just as capable of violence as anybody else, and the city itself takes on a dark, noir-ish cast.

In addition to being the starting point of the giallo, LA RAGAZZA is one of the relatively few noir films to have emerged from Italy. At a time when Bava was embracing widescreen color photography, this film finds him working in the monochromatic mode for the last time. Uncharacteristically for Bava, the director makes use of many natural location shots. Bava's sense of darkly ironic humor comes through most effectively in this sense. Rather than presenting the usual, picture-postcard image of Rome, Bava emphasizes the city's darker and more foreboding aspects. Many exterior scenes take place at night. The use of backlighting helps to emphasize the shifting forms of shadowy figures as they steal through the night. Above all else, LA RAGAZZA succeeds in presenting Rome as a foreboding underworld, where violence can erupt at random. This approach can also be seen in SEI DONNE PER L'ASSASSINO, a superior work which brings the giallo into its own by focusing on sordid characters who live by greed and violence.


Review © Troy Howarth


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