Think comics movies are cool now? You ain’t seen nothin …
Here’s something new we’re trying out. Kindred spirit Rob Kelly of The Aquaman Shrine (and many other cool-as-all-heck projects, as you can see below) is screening and reviewing some of his favorite old-school films that fit the 13th Dimension oeuvre. What is said oeuvre? We’re still figuring that out. But we know it when we see it.
Rob and I bandied about what film to start with and when he offered up Danger: Diabolik, I leapt. I encountered Diabolik comics during my Italian sojourn earlier this year, so I was more than willing to green-light this piece, as they say in the movie biz.
So here’s Rob, Diabolik and the lusty Marisa Mell. And if all goes well, Rob will be back soon with some more old-school cinematic awesome (and probably some new-school too). — Dan
By ROB KELLY
In the late 1960s, the cinema was filled to the brim with secret agents, spies, and crooks, all of whom looked utterly stylish while doing very nasty things. And no one was more stylish than Diabolik, the skin-tight jump-suited super-thief who was the titular star of a long-running Italian comic book and its big-screen adaptation, Danger: Diabolik, directed by Mario Bava and produced by Dino De Laurentiis.
Reportedly De Laurentiis approached Bava on making the film, offering him a $3 million dollar budget, an amount far greater than Bava was used to. In an astonishing display of honesty and self-awareness not seen much in the movie industry, Bava replied that he could make the film for a mere $400,000. And that he did.
Danger: Diabolik opens in media res, in that the Italian government is already on the trail of the dastardly Diabolik (John Phillip Law) — they know who he is, what he does, and how he does it. They have tried repeatedly to stop him, but he always manages to elude capture. In the opening scene, Diabolik steals $10 million from an armored car, with the help of his super-mod, super-hot girlfriend Eva Kant (Marisa Mell). After they abscond with the dough, they bring it back to Diabolik’s Batcave-esque lair, and end up having sex on top (and below) the giant piles of cash. You or I will never, ever, ever be as cool as Diabolik, so don’t even try!
After Diabolik and Eva turn a police press conference into a farce thanks to some laughing gas, the Italian government reinstates the death penalty. The crackdown affects other criminals too, so much so that big-time crime boss Valmont (Adolfo Celi, most famous as Largo in Thunderball) decides to team up with Police Inspector Ginco (Michel Piccoli), who wants nothing more than to put Diabolik in jail, if not the chair. Valmont kidnaps Eva as a way of trapping Diabolik, and demands ransom. Diabolik pays it, but in the process kills Valmont and ends up dead himself … or does he?
In fact, no — even though Diabolik is pronounced dead, it turns out thanks to a trick he learned in Tibet, he merely slowed down his heart rate to zero. With Eva’s help he escapes again, leading the government to offer a million-dollar reward for his capture. Diabolik sees that and raises, blowing up numerous tax offices leaving the country’s finances in chaos! The government is left to beg its citizens to pay whatever taxes they genuinely owe, out of patriotism. This of course leads to the government being bankrupt in a matter of days, forced to sell some of its gold reserves to stay solvent. Diabolik then plans to steal said gold, leading to a high-speed car chase and a final sequence that pointed the way to future Diabolk movies.
Alas, that never happened. Despite Danger: Diabolik being generally well-received by critics and at the box office (maybe, I can never keep that lire stuff straight), and De Laurentiis’ plan to use the money Bava saved him for sequels, there was never another Diabolik film. Word is Bava didn’t like working for such a hands-on producer, so he went off to other projects. Soon the whole “mod” thing would be out of fashion, and Diabolik had to settle for being merely a comic-book star, a status he still holds to this day in his native Italy. (For his part, De Laurentiis clearly kept looking at comic books for inspiration. He later produced Conan The Barbarian, Red Sonja, and the classic Flash Gordon.)
Even if you have never read the source material, Danger: Diabolik is a film every comic-book fan should try out. As you can see from the stills here, it is stylish to the max and just a heck of a lot of fun. Not for one moment does Bava want the audience to sympathize with anyone but his pair of hedonistic, devil-may-care crooks: Crime boss Valmont is smug and nasty, and the police are all hopeless dopes.
Sure, it’s pretty clear that Diabolik must have killed at least a few innocent people during his crimes, but Bava doesn’t ask us to care: What’s a few civil servants when you have the chance to make love to a gorgeous blonde bombshell on top of a bunch of greenbacks? Law is wonderfully terse in the title role (we often only see his incredibly expressive eyes), and Mell is suitably dreamy as his devoted girlfriend, who clearly thinks Diabolik is just the living end. Clearly influenced by the pop art sensibilities of the Batman TV show, Danger: Diabolik is just a whole lot of fun, a comic book come to life in wonderfully bravissimo style.
One final note: Danger: Diabolik was the subject of Mike and the ‘bots ribbing on the very last episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Despite my being a super-fan of that show, I will state unequivocally that D:D has no place on the Satellite of Love. It’s filled with wit and style and a good sense of humor, and does not belong on any list of films that contains Manos, The Hands of Fate and Riding with Death.
Rob Kelly is a writer/artist/comics and film historian. He is the co-host of The Fire and Water Podcast (and the host of its sister show, The Film and Water Podcast), the co-creator and writer of the award-winning webcomic Ace Kilroy, and the creator of the book Hey Kids, Comics!: True-Life Tales From the Spinner Rack. He would love nothing more than to bed down Marisa Mell on a giant pile of Aquaman comics.