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March 11, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #62 - Danger: Diabolik

(Note from The Mike: The first two paragraphs and one sentence of this post were written in the middle of an overnight shift at work.  They are presented in all their incoherent glory, the rest of the post was written during waking hours.  You've been warned.)

If the 1960s' versions of Batman and James Bond got together with Bonnie & Clyde and birthed an Italian love child that was directed by Mario Bava, that child would be Danger: Diabolik.  One part thief, one part ninja, all parts cool, Diabolik (played by John Phillip Law) is a thrill seeking supercriminal who, along with his beautiful blonde lover, takes joy in scoring the impossible heist and then roll around in a rotating bed covered in money while making out with an excessive amount of lip-to-chin force.  (Then again, who doesn't?  Am I right?)
That pretty much sums up Danger: Diabolik...except for the fact that it's a REALLY cool movie you guys.  With Bava at the helm - who surprisingly uses no blood - the film is a groovy adaptation of the Italian comic that always seems to have a new trick up its sleeve.  Most of the fun comes from watching Diabolik and his lady friend Eva (Marisa Mell) carry out their plans while being ridiculously good looking, and each of their heists involve increasingly impractical stunts and an extension of one's suspension of disbelief.
In the meantime, Diabolik hangs out at his Diabolikave, which is complete with a fleet of sports cars, futuristic skywalks, and his and hers showers. He's a man of few words, but he compensates for his silence with a boatload of intense stares that certainly get across the movie's point - which is that Diabolik is a groovy mofo. 
If it sounds incredibly silly, that's because it is.  But unlike the Flint films of the '60s or the later Austin Powers films, there's little comedy here.  In fact, reports are that it's an entirely faithful adaptation of the comic character, though the film toned down the violence of the comic to reach a wider audience.  Again, that makes it a bit surprising that Bava - the renowned horror master behind Black Sunday and Kill, Baby...Kill! - is the man at the helm, but he finds a lot of ways to make his visual style evident in the film even though he can't slice and dice as much as he's used to.
Law and Mell do their parts, being good looking physical presences in their antihero roles.  Though there's no good reason to root for Diabolik and Eva, there's even less of a reason to root for the police, who bumble about and get made to look foolish by Diabolik's "Exhilirating Gas" (which is counteracted by a pill, thank gosh!), and the rival crime boss, who likes to drop people from a trap door in his plane while his goons plug holes in the plane's hull with their gum.  He's no Robin Hood, but he's also pretty harmless to the people he steals from...he just really likes winning.  He's like the drugless Charlie Sheen of superthieves.
His one vice? Anti Exhilarating Gas Capsules!
Also adding to the films appeal is a fun musical score by the masterful Ennio Morricone, who adds an uptempo chorus to much of the action has Diabolik and Eva speed along coastal highways to escape their opponents.  The music mixes well with Bava's visual approach, and the collaboration only helps to make the film feel more like a comic book.  The set design, particularly in the underground lair, is top notch as well. 
Diabolik is a pretty mindless film - it's basically three illogical heists and a bunch of sexytime foreplay - yet it's so innocent and fun and oddly artistic that it works.  There's also a lot of fun to be had in seeing how Diabolik escapes dangerous situations, and his use of everything from catapults to Polaroid pictures to drugs that make you look dead keeps the viewer looking out for whatever gag is coming up next.  If you dig the kind of cheese that only the late '60s could offer, there are few films that offer it better than Danger Diabiolik.  It's OK in my book.

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