The giallo gets its cinematic foundation in Mario Bava's wide-eyed "story of a vacation," which charms from its title (anticipating Robin Wood's elucidation of Hitchcock's subversive theme) to its casting (Letícia Román as a visiting Yank, John Saxon doing Italianate pantomime) and beyond. The ingénue comes to Rome to see her ailing aunt, who expires the night of the visit; she dashes out to the Piazza di Spagnia in a panic, the knifing she witnesses might be a murder, or perhaps a hallucination from an Edgar Wallace-lubricated mind. At the hospital, after a tasty overhead shot of white-robed nuns crowding around the bed and spreading out like a blossoming magnolia, the callow doctor (Saxon) enters to assure Román that this is the city "of dreams, maybe, but not nightmares." Unconvinced, she pokes around and comes upon a box of newspaper clippings regarding the "Alphabet Murders": "Nobody took seriously the anonymous phone calls which preceded each of the crimes." Riiiiiiiiing! Bava's lambent camerawork gets a workout -- he updates Wyler's views of the city from a decade earlier (the camera ditches the touring couple for a moment or so to spot an al fresco fashion shoot), and reaps the benefits of his apprenticeship under Tourneur when the girl is trembling at home and tracking shots amid the shadows are called for. A bare corridor is illuminated only by light bulbs swinging from the ceiling, a recording left behind could be a clue but instead plays an uproarious sped-up version of the jazzy-sinister theme song ("Furore" -- "Fury"). The impish gleam never leaves Bava's lens, yet the protagonist's struggle with the sensory deviousness of the world in her search for the truth receives enough intensity to impress Dario Argento, who most assuredly admired Valentina Cortese's transformation from blithe socialite to Judith Anderson in Rebecca. Bava sketched the book here, now he had to color it (Blood and Black Lace). With Titti Tomaino, Luigi Bonos, Milo Quesada, Robert Buchanan, Marta Melocco, and Dante DiPaolo. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce