Reviews of Danger: Diabolik
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Lured by the success of Batman’s and Fantomas’s film versions – classic comic strip and criminal fiction heroes – Dino de Laurentiis decided to spin two projects in late 1967. One of these creations eventually became Roger Vadim’s “Barbarella” while the other one – cashing on a great popularity of Italian fumetto about supervillain Diabolik – was assigned to Mario Bava and dubbed simply “Danger: Diabolik”. Although it was the most expensive movie Bava ever directed, flashing with stylish sets or classy designer costumes and it made a huge blast in Europe, it didn’t manage to break through in United States, where after limited theatrical release it went down to circulating as a 16 mm print. But with time it gained a large following, today being considered one of the best comic book adaptations ever made linking pulp frivolousness with a sense of underground sensitivity, very appealing to the counterculture of the late 60’s.
As the movie was based on an established comic strip series, it had a pile of volumes to exploit and in fact Bava just cut’n’pasted Diabolik’s most interesting adventures rewriting them into a tight script. Known by his gothic horror, fantasy & giallo versatility, he was a perfect match for a movie, which demanded weird imagination, tension building and certain equivocality from a director. As an effect Bava came up with a humorous, luscious vision bridging pop cultural light weight with genre parody and anti-establishment winks towards political revolutionaries of the psychedelic era. In the end his figure of Diabolik (acted by John Phillip Law) is an ambiguous one, coming down as a sort of witty, technology-savvy superthief, who robs from filthy rich, but not for the profit… for pure fun and satisfaction exclusively. Although he likes to surround himself with top of the line decor and drives pricey Jaguar, he wouldn’t have a sense of purpose without his gorgeous girlfriend Eva, who’s more important than all the gold and jewels of this world.
He’s introduced while nicking a car carrying $10 mln, smoking the escort out and lifting it with a crane. But as he comes home to his lady luck Eva (played by beautiful Marisa Mell), he simply tosses the money on a bed and they’re promptly drowning in the heat of a love act using it as a spectacular fetish. But the government will soon have enough and will grant chief of police new prerogatives to get Diabolik by any means. Importantly, there is another bad guy in this story, Valmont – boss of the powerful syndicate, whose operations are being busted one by one in order to force him into a deal. He’ll be the criminal mind to deliver Diabolik. Knowing his ways far better than police, he’s gonna pick the right bait to catch him. Although this plan initially pans out, Diabolik hides more aces and throws them on a table eventually, slipping away from the hands of law being officially dead… and blowing up all tax and financial centres afterwards in an act of absurd revenge. Facing all these futile efforts the prime minister becomes edgy and orders another desperate trap set. Will Diabolik finally slip?
This fast-paced caper by Mario Bava is much different from his other genre works, mostly as he had much bigger budget at his disposal and didn’t hesitate to spend it on lurid sets, which perfectly mirror the spirit of the epoch – sci-fi ideas of the late 60’s meet current Italian interior design. Then there are Marisa Mell’s designer clothes, who’s dripping with sex herself as always (one of the reasons to see this movie). Yes, it does have a dash of exploitation, but Bava’s eye is still there with his famous close-ups (mimicked at large by later giallo and horror artists), long, full frame shots, giving viewer a sense of depth or his dynamic car chase sequences, definitely ahead of it’s time. It’s all nicely combined by a streamline action, exactly like in comic books – one scene goes after another without any psychological sit-downs as development of the characters is pretty unnecessary here – they are as we see them. Over the top acting and psychedelic musings like zapping press conference with laughing gas or busting Valmont’s pad filled with joint puffing hippies add to a general sense of playful romp, which didn’t lose anything with time. On the top you get ravishing Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack, so don’t hesitate and just go for it!
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
Ah, Italian cinema from the late 60’s. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, Mario Bava brings the world an adaptation of the comic Diabolik. Complete with cheesy set pieces, laughable heists, and over-the-top sexuality, this film may not be quite bad enough to be good, but it isn’t enough to be bad either. A lot is fun here and that must count for something. Feel free to check your brain at the door, (or perhaps you shouldn’t even wake up that morning with it), because once you start questioning how emeralds can be shot out of a gun without gunpowder, the charm will be missed. There are enough sci-fi aspects to bring it out of the reality we think of, so when craziness occurs, please just go with the flow. It will be a better experience as a result and our villian’s, (or is he the hero?), winks at the audience will bring a smile rather than an eye roll as you press the stop button on your remote control.
I couldn’t help but think about one of my favorite films CQ while watching this. From the camerawork of the car chase scenes, to the conveniently placed circles on the shower doors, to the bed romp with money, Roman Coppola’s film borrowed a lot. However, what his film had was a dramatic storyline about the director of the cheesy sci-fi film being created rather than just be about that overblown story itself. Diabolik is its own tale without any meta-narrative aspects, so the fun factor did leave the building after the first couple heists. Once you steal 10 million dollars and then a priceless emerald necklace, does the theft of a gigantic bar of gold really hold any interest? Not really for me because it becomes the same recycled plotline over and over again with incompetent government police on his tail. For a 100-minute film, it did drag a lot for me, more for the repetition than anything else. Everyone is having a grand ol’ time so it is definitely fun to enjoy the ride, a little variety would have been nice though.
There are moments that did definitely work. Diabolik scaling a tower wall with suction cup gadgets and spying the catapult on top is great fun; his girlfriend Eva’s sex appeal getting a truck driver to abandon his car is obvious yet well done; and the new Financial Minister’s plea to the public to pay what they believe they owe in taxes is priceless. Without any real plot other than the police trying to catch a master criminal and his girl while they get away with all the goods, it is definitely the parts more than the whole that you should focus on. I wouldn’t be surprised if the adaptation is from multiple comics in the series, strung together here as a cohesive whole when they may have been solitary books. The fact that our mob boss Ralph Valmont is dispatched so early on helps me believe this because is surely felt as though that would end the film, but no, it keeps on going to the next great caper.
With hammy acting and some down right horrid actors, there is no way a movie like this wouldn’t have a cult following, even if not directed by a schlock master like Bava. Marisa Mell is femme fatale to the fullest, never allowed to show she is anything more than an accomplice for the love of her man; Adolfo Celi is campy in all the right ways as Valmont, a brazen crime boss who thinks he’s one step ahead but always two steps behind; and Michel Piccoli tries his best to be the straight man amongst the eccentrics as Inspector Ginko, the man who has made it his life work to catch Diabolik. However, the entire film hinges on the great facial expressions and calm coolness of our lead played by John Phillip Law. His stone-faced serious delivery of lines like, “don’t worry, I could walk on the sun with this suit,” are just plain top-notch. The painted on tight rubber wardrobe allow for his eyes to take center stage as they attempt to frighten us with their diabolic nature and the sly smile of success is great whenever he outsmarts the authorities. Law takes the role so seriously that the absurdity works even more as he thwarts the advances by those looking to capture him. This is Diabolik, the greatest criminal of our time, not even liquid gold can keep him down.
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.