The Yellow Fever: Giallo in Italian National Cinema

Jović, Tara

What is a giallo film? The sub-genre of thriller which emerged in Italian cinema in the 1960s often seems to be defined through the theoretical lens of genre, with authors highlighting recurring elements that appear across and connect the films in question. The giallo protagonist is often, but not always, a tourist who witnesses a murder and embarks upon an amateur investigation, relying on their flawed perception and memory to solve the case before they themselves end up as its victim. The giallo killer is often, but not always, depicted in a trench coat, wearing black gloves that the viewer can observe through point-of-view shots which provide an intimate perspective into the murders. Gialli often, but not always, prioritize visuals over their sometimes incoherent narratives, featuring extremely stylized sequences of violence that are often, but not always, perpetrated on conventionally beautiful, sparsely dressed women.

While there has been a solid amount of examination of the giallo through genre theory, and some through the framework of gender studies, a particularly intriguing aspect of the films, which has thus far not been as prominent in international scholarship, lies in its relationship to the concept of national cinema. As such, the focus of this thesis is to define the
genre precisely through that lens, drawing upon the social and economic context in which it developed to illustrate how the giallo and its vision of urban life reflect the state of affairs in Italy during the period from the mid-1960s until the mid-1980s.

The first portion of the following text discusses the emergence of the genre through its relationship to its literary origins and cinematic precursors. Here, special attention is given to the combined interaction of foreign and national influences on giallo cinema, as well as the turbulent sociopolitical context of the period. The second part attempts to place the genre within the structure of the Italian film industry in several aspects — considering the conditions of giallo films’ production, examining the genre's association with terza visione audiences, and establishing its relationship to the broader tradition of filoni in Italian culture. The third section of the thesis aims to illustrate conclusions from the first two, as well as define the genre’s central motifs and evolving vision of urban life through an analysis of two films — Mario Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963), as an example of an earlier giallo which articulated for the first time some of its fundamental imagery, and Dario Argento’s Tenebrae (1982), a later feature which refers to and comments on the genre’s basic grammar, as well as on the criticisms it so often received.


More About This Work

Academic Units
Andrew Sarris Memorial Award for Film Criticism
Published Here
May 23, 2024