The Evil Eye

01/29/2024 08:58

Film: The Evil Eye (La ragazza che sapeva troppo)

Year: 1963

Director: Mario Bava

Writers: Ennio De Concini, Sergio Corbucci and Eliana de Sabata

Starring: John Saxon, Letícia Román and Valentina Cortese



This is a movie that I learned about through podcasts. It went on a list of ones to check out when I learned more about its director, Mario Bava. I grew up watching his son’s films in Demons and Demons 2. What intrigued me here is that this is the first ‘giallo’ film, being based on novels with yellow covers. I’ve seen heavy hitters from this sub-genre, so I was intrigued to see what the original would be like.

Synopsis: a mystery novel-loving American tourist witnesses a murder in Rome and soon finds herself and her suitor caught up in a series of killings.

We begin on the airplane to Rome. Nora Davis (Letícia Román) is our American tourist. She see her as she’s reading a giallo book which I thought was a good touch. She is seated next to De Vico (Milo Quesada). He offers her a cigarette and she at first declines. When she can’t find hers, she then accepts one. This puts her in an uncomfortable position though when this man is arrested when they arrive in Rome. He is a drug smuggler and the cigarette she was given is laced with marijuana. She tries to drop the pack he gave her, but a man sees and gives them back to her, thinking she missed her pocket.

Nora then goes to visit Ethel Widnall. She is admitted to the house by this older woman’s doctor, Marcello Bassi (John Saxon). Ethel isn’t well and Nora is given a tonic to administer to Ethel if her stomach acts up. Marcello also works nearby so she can call if she needs help. The problem is that this elderly woman passes away suddenly, causing Nora to flee into the night.

This proves to be a bad idea. She is mugged and her purse is stolen. In the process, she is knocked down and hits her head. She then witnesses a murder. The next morning, a man gives her a shot of alcohol to help her regain her senses. Whoever this person is, hears a police officer coming so he flees. Nora is then taken to a nearby hospital, where she meets with nuns, a police detective and a doctor, who believes she has mental illness.

Marcello gets Nora out of the hospital and wants to help her. He doesn’t at first believe what she is saying but does agree to help her find evidence. Nora ends up staying with Laura Craven-Torrani (Valentina Cortese). There seems to be a serial killer operating in the area and is killing people in order of the alphabet. There have been three victims, in order with names starting with A, B and C. Nora could be next with her last name is Davis. Is Nora being targeted by the killer or does she have an overactive imagination, stemming from her love of these pulp murder mysteries?

That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is about this being an interesting start to the ‘giallo’. I wasn’t sure early on if that was going to be the case or not so I was confused. As this develops, it makes sense for sure. Going along with this idea though as well, being the first, it isn’t the traditional set up we would expect. I would assume the story we have here would be one that comes out a couple years into the height as they try to do something different. This feels a bit ahead of its time if I’m honest since we don’t have the troupes here. Looking back, that feels like Black Christmas or even elements of Halloween before the slashers settled into what they would be with Friday the 13th.

Now that I’ve said that, where I want to start is with the character of Nora. She seems to be a bit mentally unstable from the start. I like that we get that from the beginning since that is her baseline. It seems like that idea that if you consume spooky material, then you’re going to have nightmares. This makes sense for her character. Upon arriving in Rome, she sees this man get arrested and I think that puts in her mind that there are criminals all around her. She is suspicious of everything that happens. The title also factors in here for me that she knows the ins and outs of these novels so she knows what to look for as well. I found this quite clever and Román does a good job with the character.

What also builds on this idea is that there are characters doing shady things around Nora. Marcello is helping, but there were a few moments where I was questioning if he could be in on it. I didn’t think he was, since he helps her as much as he is, but there is always that chance. That is me knowing a decent amount about gialli so I’m even falling into that trap. There are other characters around her with like Professor Torrani (Giovanni Di Benedetto), Andrea Landini (Dante DiPaolo), a slew of doctors and you can’t count out Laura either. I mean there is also the idea that there are no murders either so I’ll delve into that next.

I like this toying with the idea that none of this is happening. Nora smoked a cigarette laced with marijuana, so maybe this is all a dream. She also hits her head so it could be that. There isn’t a lot of evidence to go on early on. I mean, that is by design. It is around the halfway point that Nora finds a tape recorder and shares it with Marcello who then starts to believe. I was going to be annoyed if this was all a dream as that is a pet peeve for me with this movie. They go for a bit of comedy in the end using this that I thought was funny. It makes it smarter and knows that it is messing with the viewer. I do think everything we see here happens.

Where I’ll go then is with the acting. I’ve already said that I thought Román was good in her role. It was fun to see a young Saxon here. I grew up with him as the father in A Nightmare on Elm Street. He is quite young here and I thought he did solid as this doctor. What I like is that even though he appears good there is still that distrust which makes gialli work. I’d also credit Cortese, Titti Tomaino, Luigi Bonos, Quesada, Walter Williams, Gustavo De Nardo, Di Benedetto and DiPaolo. They all work well in pushing Nora to where she ends up as well as being red herrings/potential killer.

All that is left then is filmmaking. Now coming in, I know that Bava was a cinematographer. I figured this was going to be shot well and it is. Something that I noticed is that they’re playing with the idea that this could be a dream. There is almost a surreal feel to what we’re seeing which worked. Since we don’t know for a good portion if the things are happening to Nora like she said. There isn’t much in the way of effects to go with this. What we get here though is more of the story. It doesn’t necessarily need them. Other than that, I thought the soundtrack fit for what was needed. This is a well-made movie in general.

In conclusion, I enjoyed my time here. I didn’t necessarily know what we were going to get other than that a murder mystery. It is interesting that this is playing with that idea. I can appreciate it. Román’s performance as Nora is great. We know she loves reading these giallo novels and that could make her think things are happening around her when they’re not. She also might have stumbled on a serial killer and trying to solve that case. The rest of the cast is good at pushing her to where she ends up. This is a well-made movie across the board. The best part there being the cinematography. The only glaring issue is that I don’t love it pushing the idea that this is all a dream. This doesn’t ruin it though. I’d recommend this to fans of Bava, Saxon or intrigued to watch the beginnings of the giallo sub-genre.


My Rating: 7 out of 10