Friday, 16 January 2015

Blu-ray Review: The Girl Who Knew Too Much (Arrow Video)

The genius of Mario Bava has inspired countless film director's; past, present and almost certainly future.
Tim Burton, Joe Dante and Martin Scorsese are just a few of the famous names to draw inspiration from the Italian maestro, and his gripping thriller 'The Girl Who Knew Too Much' (1963) remains a massively influential film which kickstarted the 'Giallo' sub-genre.

The film begins on a flight from New York to Rome where Nora Davis (Leticia Roman) is indulging in her hobby of reading Italian murder mysteries. Her concentration is rudely interrupted by a man in the adjoining seat who insists she takes a pack of his cigarettes. When the plane lands, her new-found friend is promptly arrested by the police.
Nora has travelled to Rome to visit her ailing Aunt, and intends to spend a month sightseeing and helping her relative. Before long, she's introduced to Dr. Marcello Bassi (John Saxon) who is her Aunt's physician and destined to start a relationship with Nora. On her first night in Rome, Nora must deal with the death of her Aunt and is then thrown headfirst into her own murder mystery when she is mugged by an opportunist thief. Upon waking from this violent assault,she sees the body of a woman with a knife in her back. A man appears and pulls out the knife, before Nora sinks back into unconsciousness. The police and authorities refuse to believe her tale, leaving her to attempt to solve the murder on her own, just like the characters in her beloved thrillers.

Mario Bava felt the storyline of his film to be preposterous, preferring to focus on the technical aspects which are undeniably impressive. However, 'The Girl Who Knew Too Much' has much to enthuse over with delightful performances from Saxon and Roman; a plot that's a joy to follow and some great set pieces which anticipate some of Bava's future work including 'A Drop Of Water' ('Black Sabbath') and 'Blood And Black Lace'. Behind the camera, the whole production is a triumph. Lighting here is particularly impressive, with the monochrome photography capturing the night time menace of a beautiful city; imposing architecture and shadowy apartments conveying the terror Nora is experiencing.
Arrow's disc also includes an alternative cut of the film, titled 'The Evil Eye'. Running for almost 7 minutes longer than 'Girl', this variant removes all references to Marijuana, includes more comedic interplay between Roman and Saxon and replaces the original score with Les Baxter's more ominous contribution. Look out for the ex news hack played by Dante Di Paolo, who is identified as George Clooney's Uncle by Alan Jones in his video introduction to the film (more on that later).

Far from being just an ode to Hitchcock - though strong influences are certainly present - 'The Girl Who Knew Too Much' continues to delight and bewitch to this very day, and Arrow Video's Blu-ray release will surely please both seasoned admirers and also those new to the Bava fold.

Image quality on both films is pleasing, with the Italian version winning out. Grain is present on the former, while 'Evil Eye' is smoother, though both have an abundance of detail and good black levels making it a solid addition to Arrow's Mario Bava Collection. There is some minor print damage, but nothing to spoil your enjoyment.
The disc includes a Tim Lucas commentary track. As usual, Tim's contribution is invaluable, delivering cast and crew career information and highlighting various aspects of the plot and how various effects were achieved. Tim makes many observations, including the significance of ladies' dress patterns and first names, and discusses why Bava elected to shoot this in black and white. The tension between the director and John Saxon is also chronicled, which is later amplified on one of the extras. Another informative and thought-provoking commentary from the best in the business.

The extras continue with 'All About The Girl'; a 21 minute selection of interviews where Luigi Cozzi, Richard Stanley, Alan Jones and Mikel Koven set the film in its proper historical perspective, praising Bava's ingenuity and acknowledge the film's place in the giallo sub-genre. Jones declares he's seen all of Bava's films at the cinema - which makes most of his audience envious - and nice to hear the name of Umberto Lenzi mentioned in 21 minutes that simply fly. Kudos to High Rising Productions for another quality addition to an Arrow Blu-ray.
There's also a 9 minute John Saxon interview, where the great man recalls how he got the role in 'The Girl Who Knew Too Much', and details why he and Bava didn't exactly get along famously.
Alan Jones also pops up to give a 3 minute introduction to 'Girl', explaining Bava's film was originally meant to be a light, romantic thriller, and there are Italian and American trailers to round of this release.

Arrow have also included a 28 page booklet, containing notes on the transfer,and a well-written piece from Kier-La Jenesse.
Mario Bava's final black-and-white production has a fitting showcase for its many delights and is an essential purchase that nicely rounds off a terrific year for UK video labels.