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Danger: Diabolik

a/k/a Diabolik

Part Two of Operation: 00-OddBalls

     "Diabolik will make you lose your job, but you can always come to me. You'll find yourself better off. You'll be more warmly dressed and you're women ... less..."

-- Valmont     




Gonzoid Cinema




"Honey, how many times do I have to tell you, I can't understand a word you're saying with that thing on..."


Watch it!



Sights &
 Dino de Laurentiis
 Cinematografica /
 Marianne Productions /
 Paramount Pictures

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Admittedly, Danger: Diabolik barely qualifies for Operation: 00-OddBalls as our hero of this piece isn't a super-spy at all but an amoral villain of the vilest variety. So why is it here? Well, I could go on about how it sorta qualifies, about how this comic book inspired anti-hero sticks it to other criminal organizations, just for monetary gains instead of patriotic duty, or point out your perspective bias, saying how perfect a Bond villain Diabolik would be, and what's so wrong about looking at these things from Dr. Evil or Blowfeld's angle, but I'll be frank and say the real reason I'm reviewing this is because I have no desire to discuss Monica Vitti or Modesty Blaise, our original choice, after viewing it because, well, if you ain't got nothin' nice to say and all that -- hell, even Terence Stamp couldn't save that piece of ... And so, Danger: Diabolik it is, then, which is probably best known here in the States as the final episode of the late and lamented Mystery Science Theater 3000. And though some would argue over it's inclusion for such lampooning, saying it was a crime, and champion this film as the epitome of Euro-Swank Cinema, making it bulletproof, and if you agree with that assessment, then you might want to stop reading this review right now. For, as they say, opinions, like your mileage, may vary. Read on...

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We open in an unnamed European city. How do we know it's Europe? Well, a police convoy just roared by and the wailing, see-saw sirens kinda tipped us off that we're somewheres on the Continent. Anyhoo, this convoy is escorting an armored truck, loaded down with ten million in currency, to the pier for shipment somewhere else. An Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli) is in charge of this operation, and basically it's all a ruse as the armored car is full of sacks of blank paper; a decoy to lure in anyone who wants to steal the real money shipment. Why the ruse? Because Ginko has admitted to his superiors the entire criminal underworld put together doesn't scare him, except for one man -- Diabolik: a mysterious malfeasance mastermind known for pulling off nearly impossible crimes. (And the mere mention of his name strikes a dissonant chord on the soundtrack, meaning, yeah, he is that good...) And so, the real money is hidden in a Rolls Royce with several officers disguised as dignitaries, who drive the luxury car toward the docks for whatever rendezvous awaits the currency. But as they pull away, we spy a black Jaguar tailing them -- and another dissonant chord on the soundtrack tells us this is our probably our boy, Diabolik.

And after the Rolls makes it all the way to the pier without incident, above the docks, on a loading crane, sinister hands work a flatulent remote control (-- honest: it sounds like somebody's tooting whenever a button's pushed). Meanwhile, down below, the caravan of cars are enveloped in a colorful smokescreen. Abandoned and lost in the smoke, Ginko spots the Rolls, in a net, being hoisted by the crane out over the water. He also spies a man, clad from head to toe in black leather, laughing and sneering at them like Snidely Whiplash. And as Ginko rages Diabolik's name, his men open fire. But Diabolik ignores them and shimmies down the cable to the Rolls, pulls out the money bags, drops them into the drink, and then dives in after them. Then, the water swirls into a whirlpool, and continues swirling as the credits roll to a swanky, nonsensical tune. And once they're done, our villain escapes in a waiting speedboat. Making land, while transferring the money into a black Jaguar, he's spotted by a patrolling helicopter, which gives chase until their target disappears into a tunnel. Inside, we spy a blonde woman in a matching white Jaguar waiting for him. At the other end of the tunnel, the helicopter waits until the black Jaguar finally emerges and is greeted with a hail of gunfire, causing it to careen off a cliff and explode. Assessing the damage, the copter pilot radios in the details, no survivors, and returns to base. 

After the smoke clears, we go back inside the tunnel and spy Diabolik, the mystery woman, and the money sitting in the white Jaguar safe and sound. Now, this woman is Eva (Marisa Mell), Diabolik's partner and lover. She peels off his mask and they swap some spit. (And I honestly don't know how the guy breathes through that thing.) Together, they drive until Diabolik starts pressing more buttons, the flatulent remote control farts a signal, opening the hidden entrance to his super-secret hideout. Past the vaulted doors, through the lighted tunnel -- that looks just like the revolving tunnel Bigfoot carried the Six-Million Dollar Man through, one observes -- and then, once you reached the giant day-glow tinker toys, you're in.

Dropped off at the bedroom, Eva strips, heading for the giant, rotating bed (-- that would put Matt Helm's to shame), while he goes to put the money in his vault. But upon opening it, he hesitates before putting the money in ... Meantime, when Ginko reports to his superior about the botched mission, the Prime Minister (Terry Thomas) just can't believe that one man could outwit the entire police force. He also knows Diabolik will have to launder the money, somehow, and get it out of the country, but Ginko says it's no use; Diabolik is too tricky, and who knows what he'll do with all that money. And one that note, we head back to that giant rotating bed in Diabolik's pad, where said cash is currently being put to use...

Written by the sibling tandem of Angela and Luciana Giussoni and initially drawn by Gino Marchesi, the Diabolik fumetti (-- the Italian term for comic books) was first published in November, 1962. As the legend goes, sister Angela lived near a busy train station in their native Milan and noticed how much reading the passengers did on their commutes, especially the paperbacks. Now, Angela had a brief career as a model before marrying Gino Sansoni, who then took a position in Sansoni's publishing firm. And while observing all those commuters, Angela hit upon the notion of creating a new fumetti using the same, smaller dimensions for the reader's convenience. As for what it should be about, depending on which story you believe, Angela either polled commuters on what they liked to read most, with mysteries and steamy adventures winning out, or she found an abandoned Fantômas novel on a train and took it as a sign of inspiration. 

Angela and Luciana Giussoni

Fantômas was another devious master-criminal co-created by French writers Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre. And in typical grand guignol fashion, Allain and Souvestre's protagonist was one sadistic S.O.B. with definite sociopathic tendencies. He was a master of disguise, completely ruthless, and killed without qualm or mercy to achieve his own ends in 43 published adventures. Despite this grisly modus operandi, Fantômas proved quite popular throughout Europe. Originally, Giussoni's Diabolik behaved pretty much the same way: an orphan, raised and trained by a secret criminal society in the art of weapons, disguise, and science to thwart the authorities and become a master thief. But they wind up training him too well as the pupil eventually turns on his masters and kills them.

With the copycat character set, forming her own company, Astorina, Giussoni bet the bank on this new publishing venture, beginning with the first issue, Il Re del Terrore (a/k/a The King of Terror). Initially, Angela wrote the stories by herself, with sister Luciana joining her as co-writer on issue #13. Collaborating with artist Marchesi, graphically, the look of Diabolik was modeled after actor Robert Taylor. These days, Taylor is mostly known for being Mr. Barbara Stanwyck but he was quite popular in the 1940's through the 1950's (-- The Bribe, Ivanhoe, and Westward the Women are my faves), and he'd probably be remembered more -- at least more fondly, if he hadn't been one of the few to name names during the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings on alleged Communistic activities in Hollywood. After which, Taylor's career never really recovered and it's tainted his legacy ever since.


Dressed in his distinctive skin-tight body suit, Diabolik always drove the best cars -- usually a black Jaguar -- and seldom used a gun, preferring his trademark daggers, which he used with lethal proficiency, and a tranquilizer gun. See, after the first few story arcs, the character slowly morphed into more of a Robin Hood, who would only steal from criminals or those of dubious moral fiber who could afford it -- but he still kept all the loot for himself. He could still be just as lethal with his fellow criminals, but seldom, if ever, killed any police officers or innocent bystanders. And by issue #3 Diabolik had himself a love interest in Eva Kant. Less of a moll and more of an equal partner -- but I like to think of her as more of a destructive muse he must constantly please (...an opinion based solely on the feature film that I will expound upon later) -- in print Eva always found herself in the thick of it, was as rough-and-tumble as her lover thief, had her own Jaguar, and always held her own when things got a little dicey. And every hero -- even an anti-hero, of course, needs an arch-nemesis; and that honor fell to Inspector Ginko, who proved to be a worthy opponent over the years despite all those failed attempts to capture the elusive criminal.

History proves that Giussoni's gamble paid off, big time, as the public voraciously ate up the intricate plots, protracted violence, an sizzling sensuality of this demented dynamic duo and kept coming back for more. E'yup, the series had legs and proved so popular famed Italian producer Dino de Laurentiis soon came calling about the possibility of a feature film adaptation. To direct, de Laurentiis picked Mario Bava, one of my favorite filmmakers of all time -- and I'm sure Bava crapped his pants when the producer gave him a budget of over three million dollars after spending all those years making gold out of the few copper pennies spent on his previous features. But, following his own modus operandi, Bava brought the film in early and under-budget by almost two and a half million. And if you think the film would suffer from this unexpected and unspent budget surplus, you'd be dead wrong. All you have to do is compare the look and action of Danger: Diabolik to Roger Vadim's Barbarella -- another feature based on a popular Italian comic -- also produced by de Laurentiis in 1968, which cost over nine million dollars. You might not see a lot of difference in the production design of both films, which is exactly my point.

Teaming up with four other writers on the script, according to several sources, Bava's version stays fairly true to the comic, too, with, lets face it, a moronically implausible plot of improbable and daring escapades, followed by even more impossible escapes that honestly work better in the panels of a comic -- or a spy movie, 'natch. But, honestly, the plot, characters, and character motivations are just means to an end. The end being one of the most fantastical feasts of stunning visuals and incredible action set-pieces that almost carry the film into the win column for me. Almost ... But before we get into why it failed, let us get back to the film for a bit, with a press conference on the dastardly crime wave that's currently sweeping the country, where the Prime Minister announces, to his deepest regret, that the government has reinstated the death penalty to try and end this reign of terror. And as the reporters bombard him with questions, we recognize two of them who remain strangely silent. And as the Prime Minister rants how Diabolik won't make a fool of him, our two villains both swallow an anti-exhilaration-gas antidote before Diabolik snaps a few pictures, releasing the dreaded exhilaration gas with every flash. Then, it starts with a few giggles, but soon the press conference is reduced to a large, quivering mass of hysterical laughter.

Totally pants'd by his nemesis, again, Ginko offers to resign but his superiors won't let him. In fact, he's being granted the "special powers" he'd been requesting to rein in certain criminal elements that've been running rampant. But! Ginko is expected to get results -- or else. And get them he does as some flying newspapers and nifty animated sequence show Ginko's noose around the underworld's neck growing tighter. And as the police crackdown continues, one of their primary targets, I'm assuming since they can't find Diabolik, is crime lord Ralph Valmont (Adolfo Celi -- last seen wearing an eye-patch and tormenting James Bond as Largo in Thunderball and annoying Bond's little brother in Operation: Double 007.) With his syndicate falling apart, then, Valmont and his lieutenants meet on his yacht to try and come up with a plan to combat the police. And to make matters worse, word comes that his night club, the base of his narcotics operation, has just been raided and all the drugs seized (-- in the trippiest scene in the whole dang movie. And after that scene in the bedroom, that's really saying something.) This proves the last straw for Valmont, who contacts Ginko and the two strike a bargain: if the criminal can deliver the elusive Diabolik to the authorities, then the police will back off and turn a blind-eye towards Valmont's dirty deeds.

The action then leaps from the boat to Valmont's private jet plane (-- not the first and not the last example of the film's time and space-warping abilities). Putting his new plan to a vote, Valmont's underlings vote five to three to turn Diabolik over. But Valmont quickly makes it unanimous by shooting two of the dissenters and sending the third plunging to his death through a trap door.

Actually, Valmont tried to shoot the third guy, too, but missed, and, in a funny, final punch-line, another henchmen uses a piece of gum to nonchalantly seal the breech caused by the stray bullet, while the boss resorts to Plan B.

And so, Valmont sets his plan in motion, ordering everyone to keep their eyes and ears open. They know Diabolik has a beautiful, blonde girlfriend and concentrate on finding her first. For if you find her, you find Diabolik. Meanwhile, back in the super-secret lair, Diabolik and Eva are still in bed watching TV. Since Eva's birthday is coming soon, he asks what she would like as a gift. Coincidently, a news report comes on about some foreign dignitary's impending visit but what really gets their attention is the dignitary's wife and her fabulously necklace consisting of eleven over-sized emeralds. Wanting this for her birthday, Diabolik promises to get it for -- but she'll have to help, namely disguise herself as a prostitute to stake out the hotel where the target is staying. And after a brief dust-up with another prostitute, who was just defending her territory, Eva reports in; seems the dignitaries are staying in the highest room in the hotel -- more of a castle, really, with thirty cops stationed outside, thirty more inside, with every room covered with surveillance cameras. With such elaborate security, Diabolik believes Ginko must be in charge of this detail. When Eva says she didn't see him, Diabolik just knows he's there. And he's right, as they spy Ginko escorting the elderly couple up to their room, where he instructs them to leave the emerald necklace out, in plain sight, as bait. He also reveals there's a hidden camera secreted in a large portrait, hanging on the wall, that is focused on the same bait and how all entrances to the room are covered -- except the back window. And to breach the room through that, a person would have to scale a wall that "even a fly couldn't climb." Unless, of course, the fly had a camouflaged leather jumpsuit and suction cups.

And once our human fly reaches the window, with the help of a Polaroid snapshot, foils the security camera and seizes the jewels. And he would've gotten out clean except the owner woke up, sees her necklace is gone, and screams before he can get away. This brings Ginko and his boys a running. Making it to the stairs, Diabolik is forced to retreat to the roof with Ginko hot on his heels. Locking the door behind him, the master criminal scans for a means of escape. But there aren't any -- except for that catapult.

Ginko breaks down the door in time to see Diabolik launch himself over the wall and into the sea. Firing at the falling body, several officers swear they hit him but it's all moot as no one could survive the fall anyway. Still, Ginko orders everyone down to the beach to find the body. After they all leave, a very naked Diabolik emerges from behind the catapult and scampers down the steps. 

Makes you wonder where he's hiding that necklace, don't it!

Meanwhile, the prostitute who hassled Eva reports to Valmont and with the help of an artist, and more animated hi-jinks, they get a composite sketch of Eva. Stunned, Valmont believes a woman of such beauty must have had some work done by the infamous Dr. Veneer -- a lost-licensed physician to all criminals. Rounding up the plastic surgeon, he denies knowing her but Valmont suspects the doctor is lying and warns he'll be killed if his denials prove false. After Veneer leaves, Valmont orders copies of Eva's picture distributed among his cronies. Back at the beach, Diabolik's deception is uncovered with the recovery of an empty jumpsuit but he's already escaped, with Eva, in his car. Several patrol cars spot them and give chase. Listening in on their own police band radio, Diabolik lays a trap for their pursuers by stretching some tin foil across the road. However, Eva is injured while unloading it, but they still get is set up and escape while the cops crash into the foil, swerve off a cliff and explode on impact.

On the way back to their super-secret lair, Diabolik orders Eva to have her arm checked out by Dr. Veneer. On her way, she's spotted by one of Valmont's goons and tailed to Veneer's office. Inside, the good doctor warns this had better be her last visit but won't say why. As his nurse prepares Eva for an infra-red treatment (?), she's chloroformed from behind. And while Eva is drug off to parts unknown, Veneer pays the ultimate price for lying. Back at his lair, Valmont waits for Diabolik's call. He doesn't wait long. Seems Diabolik saw his ad in the paper for a missing white Jaguar. And for Eva's safe return, the ransom is all the money he just stole plus the emerald necklace. Diabolik agrees to meet them at the airport and in exchange on Valmont's jet. Of course this is a trap, and Valmont plans to pocket all the loot, keep Eva for himself, and turn Diabolik over to Ginko.

At the appointed time, Diabolik is escorted onto Valmont's jet and positioned right on top of the trap door. After the plane takes off, Valmont demands his ransom. All the money appears to be there, but the necklace is missing. When Valmont gets cranky, Diabolik says, no Eva, no necklace. This stalemate continues until the pilot radios they've reached their destination. Ordering him to circle the plane until further notice, Valmont opens the trapdoor. Saying Eva is down there, below, he also offers his enemy a parachute if he hands over the necklace. Accepting these terms, Diabolik quickly puts the parachute on. But before he can jump, Valmont orders his men to open fire. Expecting this, Diabolik quickly seizes Valmont, uses him as shield, and jumps, dragging the criminal kingpin with him!

As they freefall, above, Valmont's jet explodes. Confessing he hid a bomb in the ransom suitcase, knowing it was trap all along, Diabolik pulls the ripcord. And as they float toward the ground, under the threat of being dropped, Valmont reveals Eva is being held in a nearby cabin. With that, Diabolik drops him anyway but they're close enough to the ground that this isn't fatal. Retrieving the necklace, Diabolik heads to the cabin and rescues Eva from the clutches of a cigarette-smoking degenerate with some non-comic code approved biological urges. Then, they discover Ginko was a couple steps ahead of all of them and has the place surrounded! 

Ordering Eva to stay in the cabin, knowing if he's captured, she'll know what to do, Diabolik takes up a machine gun and starts peppering Ginko's men. As the police close in, Diabolik starts chewing on his few remaining bullets. Meantime, after recovering from his fall, Valmont finds Diabolik and opens fire. Ginko tries to call him off but Diabolik jumps out and blasts Valmont until his gun clicks empty. After the police return fire, when the smoke clears, both Valmont and Diabolik are pronounced dead at the scene. Later, when Diabolik's corpse is prepared for autopsy, the coroner's assistant preps the body -- and doesn't she looks kind of familiar? And before the coroner can make his first incision, Diabolik's eyes pop open! Then, the assistant pulls her mask off, confirming it was Eva all along. Outside, several reporters await the autopsy results as Eva wheels the alleged corpse, covered in a blanket, right past them, assuring them all the coroner will soon be making a statement that will be absolutely shocking.

In his office, in a strange turn, Ginko mourns the passing of his arch-nemesis until he gets a call saying Diabolik has escaped. Again. His assistant doesn't believe it, saying he has Diabolik's death certificate in his hands. Ginko takes it, reads, and chews his ass; this is Valmont's death certificate; cause of death eleven gunshot wounds to the chest. Wait. Weren't there eleven emeralds? Figuring it out, Ginko scrambles to find out where Valmont's body was sent ... Meanwhile, at the nearest crematorium, Diabolik poses as Valmont's elderly next of kin. After picking out an urn they head to collect the ashes. And as they're scooped up, we see the emeralds being transferred as well. Seems Diabolik somehow managed to use them as bullets, shot them into Valmont, killing him, and allowing him to keep them out of the hands of the police.

Too late. I already called No friggin' way.

Gonging the attendant over the head with the urn, after gathers up the emeralds, Diabolik's disguise allows him to walk right past the unsuspecting Ginko. He returns to his super-secret lair and finds Eva swimming in a spectacular looking grotto and moon pool. (And whoever did the set designing on this movie deserved to be paid that entire budget surplus.) Told to close her eyes, she is then given the emeralds. Happy birthday!

And I hope he at least washed them off first!

After this latest debacle, a new Prime Minister is appointed, who offers a million dollar reward for any information leading to the capture of Diabolik. Feeling this new hard line stance will bring Diabolik to justice, the PM receives a message from the master criminal. Seems he doesn't think the government is spending it's money very wisely, so he'll just take all of it. Thinking it's a bluff, the PMs hand is called by a montage of government buildings exploding and collapsing. With that, the government is in chaos; all the reserve money is destroyed, and worse yet, all tax records of the population is lost, meaning they don't know who owes taxes and how much. And when the new PM calls on the nations' civic pride to come forward and pay what they owe in taxes, he's laughed out of office.

Thusly, as the government teeters on the verge of collapse, Ginko hits upon one last hair-brained scheme. His plan is to take what's left of the government's gold supply and melt into one, 20-ton ingot. Sealed inside a steel container and loaded on a train, Ginko knows Diabolik won't be able to resist trying to steal the gold but fears the massive size will pose too big a logistical problem and scare the thief off. 

Fat chance.

When the train leaves the station, Ginko radios from his compartment every ten minutes to confirm everything is A-OK. Meanwhile, a certain leggy blonde in a pair of form-fitting hip-huggers flags down a passing truck. Seems she's having some troubles with her car and needs a lift. After enticing the driver out of the cab to get her luggage, Diabolik gets in and roars off. When the driver chases him on foot, Eva jumps in the Jaguar and speeds after the truck, leaving the hapless dupe by the wayside (-- well, at least they didn't kill him). Using the truck to run the police barricade, Diabolik bails out before sending it over a cliff, where it crashes to the bottom, blocking the train tracks and tunnel below. Eva picks him up, and then blows a kiss to the poor truck driver as they roar past him again. Next, as it comes out of the tunnel, the train engineer slams on the brakes and stops before running into what's left of the truck. Ordering the train to reverse course as fast as possible, Ginko suspects Diabolik has mined the other tunnel entrance to trap the train inside. They do make it out, just in time, as the tunnel entrance explodes and caves in. But as the gold train is rerouted, Ginko doesn't realize he's falling right into his nemesis' trap. And when the train crosses a bridge spanning over the ocean, Diabolik breaks out his trusty flatulent remote-control and let's out the biggest fart yet. The bridge explodes, plunging the train into the water below.

Who knows how many are killed or injured, but we do spy Ginko surface and swim toward shore. Under the water, Diabolik and Eva use helium balloons and a mini-sub to haul off the giant gold ingot to his super-secret lair. And once they get it inside, Diabolik dons his fire-proof jumpsuit and uses his laser to cut two small holes in the steel casing, attaches a hose to one of the holes, and jams the laser into the other. Since gold melts at a temperature less than steel, he plans to smelt the giant ingot and use the hose to spray it into molds of smaller, and more manageable, gold bars. Cranking up the laser, he waits for the gold to turn molten. Once it does, he starts spraying it into the molds and gives his customary sinister laugh -- but it's quickly drowned out by his intruder alarm!

Turns out Ginko might be a worthy opponent after all. Learning from his mistakes, knowing Diabolik would steal the gold, he "radio-activated" (-- I'm gonna assume he meant irradiated --) the gold. That way, they could use a Geiger-Counter to trace it to Diabolik's secret lair. And as his base is overrun by the police, when Diabolik orders Eva to escape out the super-duper secret-escape tunnel, promising to join her as soon as he opens the locks to the ocean, drowning everyone left inside the base like rats, she doesn't want to leave him. But, he assures they'll meet again because he can't live without her. Reluctantly, then, Eva slips off into the shadows as Ginko draws closer, spots him, and opens fire, cutting Diabolik off from those floodgates. Retreating into the smelting room, he discovers he left his laser on too long and it's starting to melt the steel. He tries to reach the controls to shut it down but is thwarted by steady gunfire. When the laser overheats and explodes, Diabolik pulls the face-cover shut on his suit before he is showered in molten gold ... When the smoke clears and the gold cools and hardens, the walls of the chamber are now covered in a new, shiny layer. And in the middle, encased like a statue, with his face still visible through his faceplate, Diabolik is finally trapped -- and apparently cooked alive!

Hours pass as reporters are brought in to document the secret lair, where Ginko announces Diabolik is dead. Again. (And after an astounding flash of brilliance, he quickly reverts to extreme idiocy.) He doesn't like his enemy displayed like this, so he orders all the reporters out. And once the room empties, Eva appears out of the shadows and approaches the statue. Looking into Diabolik's eyes, she then starts dry-humping the statue until someone grabs her from behind. It's Ginko. He knew, if she thought she was alone, she'd come back to see Diabolik one last time. (Okay, maybe he isn't an idiot after all.) She asks for a few more minutes alone with her former lover. He agrees and leaves them alone. (Check that; he's still an idiot.) And as she stares into his eyes, they suddenly spring to life and give her a wink. With a wry smile Eva promises she'll be waiting for him. Then, Ginko returns and escorts her out of the room. After they leave, we zoom back on Diabolik's eyes and he gives us a wink, too, and then his patented sinister laugh echoes as we fade to...


I really, really, really want to love this movie. Hell, I'd even settle for really, really, really liking this movie, but, I just can't and, therefore, don't. Love it. Or like it. And it wasn't for a lack of trying, dammit. *sigh* Now, I don't hate Danger: Diabolik, either. Far from it. It's just ... kinda there.  

Two things, I think, will go a long way in explaining my cold reaction to this movie. First is a total lack of character identification. I've never read a single Diabolik comic, so, again, my only character reference or inference is taken from the film. And in the film, our masked marauder kind of comes off as a total douche-snozzle -- and a completely self-serving douche-snozzle at that, no matter how cool he looks pulling things off, making the end results of his criminal excursions nothing short of despicable and completely appalling. I can't even begin to fathom how many people he killed -- police and civilian -- during his crime spree. And for what? For ego? To pay the electric bill to run that elaborate hideout that's obviously over-compensating for something? For Eva? Now we're getting somewhere ... Frankly, one has to wonder if Eva only sticks with him for all the cool toys and ill-gotten goodies he brings her. And one also has to wonder at what point will Diabolik trade Eva in for a newer model when she is no longer a perfect fit for his twisted sense of self. Which brings us back to that whole deadly muse thing. For I see more of Starkweather and Fugate in our protagonists than Bonnie and Clyde. And you can romanticize it all you want, but that's not love keeping them together. It's an insatiable greed that feeds this duo, a bottomless hole that constantly needs bigger thrills and bigger targets in a futile attempt to both fill that need -- to feel anything, really -- and screw the consequences and whoever gets in the way. That's not love. That's just a perverse and sociopathic form of avarice and cupidity. And I have no patience for that kind of crap. I have even less patience for the kind of sheer idiocy and insipid buffoonery shown by the government officials, here, making Diabolik's exploits less impressive by the minute -- if we could only gloss over that staggering body count. Even Ginko comes off as an insufferable ass and is only effective when given his  "special powers" -- read suspension of things like warrants and due process -- and allies himself with gangsters to bring Diabolik in. Hell, the only likeable character is the gangster, Valmont, and him they killed off. Feh.

It probably didn't help matters that my first screening of Danger: Diabolik happened not long after the events of 9/11, which provides the second reason why this film curdled on me so badly. This particular bone to pick shouldn't be blamed on a movie that was made in 1968. That's not fair. But with each police officer killed, the untold thousands murdered when the government buildings exploded and came down, and who knows how many people were on that train when it went in the river, not for misguided zealotry but hubris and greed, raised my ire appreciably. So appreciably that, by the end, when Diabolik, encased in gold, winks at the audience can you honestly blame a guy for wanting him to just stay trapped in there until he rotted away? And then there's that annoying itch that could be scratched if only Eva was stuck in there with him?

And maybe there's a third explanation for my abysmal reaction to Danger: Diabolik. Perhaps I'm being a bit too harsh on the film. It is about a master criminal after all. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it -- or bringing too much baggage. Maybe I'm taking it too seriously and not seeing it as the farcical romp as the filmmaker intended. And I suppose one could consider Danger: Diabolik a comedy. Parts of it's script and overall style definitely owe a lot to another masked man, a certain caped crusader, whose campy TV show absolutely exploded into a worldwide phenomenon a few years before this film went into production. But even if I did consider it a comedy, we still have a problem. For as much as I love Bava, I have a hard time dealing with his sense of humor. The man could be funny, but these were usually in small doses in-between all that ghoulishness. There, he excels. Here, not so much. Thinking on it, when he tries to make an outright comedy -- Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, Four Times that Night, and, to lesser extent, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack, to me, these are quite excruciating to sit through. The cast really doesn't help matters, either. As scripted, John Phillip Law and Marisa Mell are nothing more than glorified Ken and Barbie dolls decked out with a closet full of groovy costumes, with some wild accessory packs, and thrown into some pretty cool playsets. Both actors are better than that. I've seen them be better than that in other things. 

Apparently, Mell was a replacement after the fact when Catherine Deneuve and Bava had a falling out a week into filming. 

But, hey, the movie is absolutely fantastic to look at. If you can get past the characters and story and just look at the picture as an exercise in style, then Danger: Diabolik excels at warp speed. A brightly colored explosion of kitsch and a pop-art orgy, Bava's film is an over-the-top exercise in excess of gorgeous set-designs and outlandish action and eye-popping props topped off by a whackadoodle soundtrack by Ennio Morricone that is somewhere between a Dexedrine buzz and seductive swank. And that is the main difference between this movie and the aforementioned and aborted Modesty Blaise. While Bava makes this film watchable on at least some level, Modesty Blaise is 119 excruciating minutes of Monica Vitti changing clothes -- who is sexy if you find a frumpy Barbara Streisand in a beehive hairdo appealing -- and Dirk Bogarde mugging for the camera and that's it. Seriously. *bleaugh*

When Bava brought the production in for just a fraction of it's budget, de Laurentiis was so pleased with the results and the film's European box-office success he wanted Bava to take the leftover money and make a sequel as soon as possible but this never panned out. One of the reasons for that might have been Danger: Diabolik's failure to launch outside of Europe. Again, I think a lack of reference, meaning no access to the comics and characters, goes along way in explaining why the film tanked at the American box-office. I searched the newspaper archives for two years after it's domestic release date and can find no trace of it ever playing in my neck of the woods. Vadim's Barbarella faired better but I think that had more to do with Jane Fonda being in the cast than the quality of the film itself. Over the years since, Danger: Diabolik has garnered quite the cult following, with more and more critics championing it, saying, as a viewer, if you didn't like it you simply just didn't get it. 

Now being a dumb and and somewhat dim-witted viewer, myself, who obviously just didn't get it, I freely admit without any rancor that maybe I did take it too seriously the first time through. A recent viewing on a better, more complete print, had me softening on it quite a bit, too, but, overall, the characters and motivations still left me sour when it ended. As it is, then, I can highly recommend viewing Danger: Diabolik as one big and wonderful piece of eye-candy; a lesson in style and color over substance that sensuously sizzles on screen put on masterfully by Bava.

Danger: Diabolik (1967/1968) Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica :: Marianne Productions :: Paramount Pictures / P: Dino De Laurentiis, Bruno Todin / D: Mario Bava / W: Dino Maiuri, Brian Degas, Tudor Gates, Mario Bava, Adriano Baracco, Angela Giussani (fumetti), Luciana Giussani (fumetti) / C: Antonio Rinaldi, Mario Bava / E: Romana Fortini / M: Ennio Morricone / S: John Phillip Law, Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli, Adolfo Celi, Terry-Thomas

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Originally Posted: 03/26/03 :: Rehashed: 07/26/2012

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.

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