Danger: Diabolik

cast: John Phillip Law, Adolfo Celi, Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli, and Terry Thomas

director: Mario Bava

96 minutes (12) 1968
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Paramount DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by J.C. Hartley

Danger Diabolik

Dino de Laurentiis produced Danger: Diabolik in the same year as Barbarella, which also starred John Phillip Law. While Law was quite literally an angel in Barbarella, here he is the very devil, an anarchist super-criminal for whom the spoils of his various heists are just an excuse to blow things up. Sheaves of folding money make a comfy mattress where he can romance his beloved Eva (Marisa Mell). Where Danger: Diabolik fares better than Barbarella is in having a cult director in Mario Bava who seems to understand his material, and a score by the great Ennio Morricone. Barbarella had a big budget, publicity, and a director in Roger Vadim who used the film in an attempt to make his lovely blonde wife Jane Fonda queen of the galaxy.

Drawn from the Italian fumetti, literally ‘a puff of smoke’, comic strip, created by the sisters Angela and Luciani Giussani in 1962, Diabolik is an antihero preying mainly upon fellow criminals. His activities in this film version seem geared to bring about his unnamed country’s economic collapse. The most obvious parallel is with the French master criminal Fantomas, created by writers Allain and Souvestre, a hero to the surrealist group of artists, and star of many screen and print adaptations. Fantomas followed the gentleman thief Arsene Lupin into print. Created by Maurice LeBlanc, Lupin is in the tradition of criminals ultimately doing good by doing bad and has also inspired print and screen versions, latterly the Lupin 111 anime series. Fantomas is amoral and murderous where Lupin adheres to a moral code; Diabolik seems to straddle these moral positions. The enigmatic screen version of Diabolik betrays no obvious motivation other than to acquire nice things for Eva and make a lot of hard currency extremely sticky.

Escaping after his opening robbery Diabolik is pursued by an iconic helicopter, but goes to ground in his underground lair. Diabolik further humiliates the state by administering laughing gas during a televised speech by the minister of finance, played by the ever-wonderful Terry Thomas. Under pressure, Diabolik’s archenemy Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli, Belle de Jour) targets crime boss Valmont (Adolfo Celi, Thunderball), brokering a deal whereby the police will lay off Valmont’s operations if he helps bring in Diabolik. Valmont tracks down a physician who treats Diabolik and Eva, and manages to kidnap Eva, crossing the physician ‘off the human list’ with a machine-gun in the process. Diabolik goes to the rescue, disposing of Valmont and using stolen emeralds as ammunition in a gun battle with Valmont’s gang and the police. Facing economic ruin the state hits on the risky notion of concentrating all its financial reserves into one giant gold ingot, which inevitably Diabolik is driven to steal.

An impressive array of DVD extras actually enhances the enjoyment of Danger: Diabolik.

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There is a commentary by John Phillip Law, and Tim Lucas, the biographer of Mario Bava. There are a couple of trailer reels, and an excellent Beastie Boys music video for Body Movin’, which incorporates actual film footage with the boys’ spoof versions. Finally, From Fumetti To Film looks at the film’s comic-book origins, and features artist Stephen R. Bissette, who collaborated with Alan Moore on Swamp Thing. Bissette discusses Bava’s framing technique, which echoes comicbook set-ups, but points out how the movement within the frame is more suggestive of the ‘animation’ that comics seem to achieve, while Vadim’s set-ups are static and pedestrian. Director Roman Coppola also features, explaining how his feature CQ (2001), criminally unavailable as an all region DVD, pays homage to Italian fantasy movies.

Colourful and cheerful Danger: Diabolik is everything a comicbook adaptation should be, remarkable that audiences had to wait some 30 years before the industry cottoned-on how to do it as well.