Mario Bava is probably best known as the director of horror films like Black Sunday and giallo thrillers like Blood and Black Lace, but he also made sword and sandal movies, science-fiction tales and even a Western. Bava was a master at creating stylish and atmospheric films, which ended up looking much more impressive and expensive than their often modest budgets. He directed one of the best comic book adaptations ever made. Danger: Diabolik (1968) is a colorful, action-filled adventure based on the Italian comic book, or fumetti, created by siblings Angela and Lucianna Giussani. The series follows the adventures of a master thief, Diabolik, and his accomplice, Eva Kant. Diabolik began publication in 1962, and became one of the most successful comics ever published in Europe, selling more than 150 million copies.
The initial cinematic adaptation of Diabolik was begun by producer Tonino Cervi and director Seth Holt. The cast featured Jean Sorel as Diabolik, Elsa Martinelli as Eva Kant and George Raft as Diabolik's enemy, Richness. After Raft dropped out due to health problems, and was replaced by Gilbert Roland, production on the film started up again. Dino De Laurentiis, who was distributing the movie, scrapped the project after being disappointed with the footage completed by Holt. De Laurentiis began again with a new script, cast and crew, and hired Bava to direct the film. John Phillip Law, who was set to co-star in De Laurentiis' upcoming production of Barbarella, was cast as Diabolik, while Marisa Mell took over the role of Eva Kant. Celebrated composer Ennio Morricone (The Good, The Bad & The Ugly) was brought on board to write the score for the film, and editor Romana Fortini, cinematographer Antonio Rinaldi, and set designer Carlo Rambaldi also joined the project.
The film begins with Diabolik's heist of ten million dollars from a convoy overseen by police Inspector Ginko. Despite Ginko's careful preparations, including the use of a decoy convoy containing paper instead of money, the master thief and his lover/accomplice, the beautiful Eva Kant, steal the loot and escape capture. Thus begins a cat and mouse game between Diabolik and Ginko that runs throughout the film. The inspector even makes a deal with the notorious gangster Valmont to aid him in his pursuit and capture of Diabolik. Over the course of the story the clever Diabolik evades capture (using a variety of gadgets and very fast cars) and pulls off some increasingly spectacular thefts. When Eva is kidnapped by the evil Valmont, will Diabolik's luck run out? Can our resourceful (and death-defying) anti-hero rescue his one true love Eva, and pull off the biggest gold heist of all time?
|John Phillip Law & Marisa Mell|
Danger: Diabolik is filled with kinetic action sequences, eye-popping set pieces and marvelous work from the cast. The athletic Law (best known to genre fans in the US for playing Sinbad in the Ray Harryhausen production The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) is excellent as Diabolik, and Marisa Mell is lithe, sensual and seductive as Eva Kant. The two actors (who reportedly dated offscreen) have great onscreen chemistry; you can definitely feel their passion for one another. Michel Piccoli is solid as Diabolik's nemesis Inspector Ginko, the indispensable Terry-Thomas is wonderful as a government official, and Adolfo Celi (who portrayed James Bond's nemesis Emilio Largo in Thunderball) is appropriately slimy as the villainous Valmont. Even though Diabolik is a thief and a terrorist (he blows up all of Italy's tax offices in the film!), we end up rooting for him, because's he's a charming rogue with his own code of conduct. He's the kind of guy who seems to specifically target corrupt governments and remorseless bad guys with no sense of honor.
Bava does a fantastic job with the film. The movie looks far more expensive than its limited budget, thanks to some spectacular matte paintings, skillful use of miniatures, an inspired color palette, and some inventive camera tricks by Bava and his crew. Ennio Morricone's terrific music effortlessly matches the tone of the film, effectively using instruments like electric guitar and sitar, as well as some talented vocalists, to underscore the action and not overwhelm it. The movie has an off the wall sense of humor, but never becomes quite as deliriously campy as the Batman television series, the James Coburn "Flint" films or Dean Martin's "Matt Helm" movies. Danger: Diabolik has a style all its own. I think it's one of Mario Bava's best films, and it's most certainly one of the most well-done (and affectionate) comic book adaptations ever made.
If you like the spy films and television series of the 1960s and 1970s, (or are a Mario Bava fan) I think you'll really enjoy Danger: Diabolik. The move has influenced a variety of comic book artists and filmmakers including Stephen Bissette, Edgar Wright and Roman Coppola, and the Beastie Boys famously integrated clips from the movie into their video for their 1998 song "Body Movin." The film has recently been released in an outstanding special edition from Shout! Factory, which includes a featurette on the history of the original comic strip and the film's production, and a pair of audio commentaries, including one by Bava scholar and Video Watchdog editor Tim Lucas with star John Phillip Law. Here's a look at the trailer, even though it really doesn't do justice the this unique film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNyrLfODNyg.