This whole sequence ends up having almost nothing to do with the main plot, but it communicates the Hitchockian feel. Nora even has a passing resemblance to Grace Kelly, the dark-haired man could easily be one of Hitchcock’s handsome protagonist/villains and the black and white photography takes cues from Hitchcock’s oeuvre. The intro specifically reminded me of “Strangers on a Train” (1951) although the main plot is explicitly a reference to “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1934/1956).
Nora, an American, arrives in Rome to visit her sick aunt. Dr. Bassi (John Saxton) is taking care of her, and quickly becomes a romantic interest. Her first night in town there is a terrible storm. The lights go out and Nora hears her aunt crying out for her. She swiftly enters the room and tries to prepare some medicine, but is, alas, too late. The death is given the ultimate dramatic treatment: lighting flashes, a cat hisses, Nora screams and drops the glass of medicine to shatter against the floor. She turns and flees into the rain. Still, none of this has anything to do with the main plot.
Symptomatic of this focus is the enormous amount of fake outs and red herrings the audience is subjected to. Every time we think something suspicious is occurring or that the murderer is about to strike, it turns out to be a misunderstanding. This happens in excess of a dozen times, and when we learn who the killer really is, it turns out to have nothing to do with any clue or any scare in the film up to that point. It also stretches believability pretty far and introduces many questions that never receive answers. We end up with that impossible brand of killer who has no motive except insanity although the craziness doesn’t manifest itself in front of the audience until the final confrontation and doesn’t interfere with their flawless criminal plots.
Some of the scenes of tension are actually quite good. In one memorable case, Nora walks down a hotel corridor towards a threatening voice that beckons her onward. The windows are open and wind sways the hanging light bulbs along the hallway in an eerie fashion. She peers into the dark room at the end of the hallway, straining to make out a figure. I won’t spoil the truth.
An even more creative scene has Nora covering the floor with talcum powder and stringing twine between the walls and furniture to make any intruder into her house slip into her tangled web. The narration informs us that Nora reads too many mystery novels. I’m inclined to agree, but it’s a great scene anyway.
Perhaps the best aspect of “The Girl Who Knew Too Much” is the crisp, well-restored photography. Already at this early stage, Bava is experimenting with unusual camera placement and making use of historical landmarks (another Hitchcock influence).
Walrus Rating: 7.0