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May 11, 2015

The Evil Eye

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La ragazza che sapeva troppo / The Girl who Knew too Much
Mario Bava - 1963
Kino Classics BD Region A

Was it murder, or was it a dream about a murder? Tim Lucas, in his commentary, mostly taken from his exhaustive book on Mario Bava, lists films and books that had influenced various aspects of this film, also known as The Girl who Knew too Much. Lucas also discusses how Bava had probably influenced Dario Argento. For myself, there is an unintended connection to Lucio Fulci. Bava's "girl", Nora, is first seen as a woman in a lizard's skin, a snakeskin coat. About eight years later, Fulci made A Lizard in a Woman's Skin. Both films are about women who may have confused dreams about murder with real events, and possible drug induced hallucinations. Add to this that both Bava's film and Fulci's were both distributed in the United States by American-International. While the Bava film was retitled The Evil Eye, the initially planned English language title, and that of the Fulci film, retitled Schizoid, indicates the influence of Alfred Hitchcock, primarily has as a point of reference for capturing audience attention.

The new blu-ray provides the ability to see two variations of what is essentially the same movie. The main difference is that the English language version released as The Evil Eye has a few extra minutes of comedy, mostly with with Leticia Roman bumping head first into Rome, and an appearance by Bava, in a photograph, that recalls a similar sight gag in Sullivan's Travels. What makes this something of a challenge to traditional film scholarship is that there is no definitive version as such, but one made primarily for an Italian audience, another for American audiences. The original production was instigated by American-International following the success of Bava's Black Sunday. As was common at the time, the actors performed in their own language, to be dubbed later, so that if one is concerned about which version is in the "correct" language, it would arguably be English.

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It seems fortuitous that Bava's film would star an Italian-American actor, John Saxon, and an Italian born American actress, Leticia Roman, originally Carmine Orrico and Letizia Novarese. There may be a joke about a Saxon and a Roman here. Was Roman cast because of her big, Margaret Keane sized eyes? There are several shots that emphasize those eyes that may not coincidentally remind some of the eyes of Barbara Steele. Roman's eyes look bigger here than they appear in the stills from her other films, as if Bava somehow grafted the eyes of Steele onto an actress who could have easily passed as a California beach bunny. In any event, the casting of the two stars made the film less foreign for American audiences.

In his book, Lucas explains how Eye/Girl was not the first giallo, or even a proto-giallo. What is certain is that the film, a financial failure in Italy, given minimal release elsewhere, has developed greater interest and respect as part of the overall interest in Mario Bava's career. Like other Bava film's the narrative aspects are almost besides the point. The reason to see Eye/Girl is for the fantastic images, of deserted Rome at night, the zig-zag web that Nora creates to trap potential intruders, the ghostly image of Nora reflected on the window of an old fashioned elevator in a seemingly vacant apartment building. Lucas' commentary can be heard along with The Girl who Knew too Much, and if you haven't read his book, be sure to give it a listen. See both versions, decide for yourself if one version is better than the other. Or to put it another way, let the films speak for themselves.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 11, 2015 08:07 AM