Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Danger : Diabolik!



aka Diabolik aka Danger : Diabolik
Italy (Ity-Fr) 1968 : Mario BAVA : 82 mins (alt. versions run 99 and 105 mins)

Garishly mixing Batman (filmed in 1966) and Barbarella (1968), Bavas comic-strip adaptation provides a fair amount of daft, decadent fun before running out of steam around the hour mark. Barbarella co-star John Phillip Law cuts a wooden figure with or without his mask as Diabolik (pronounced dyer-bollick), a stylish criminal mastermind tormenting the government of an unspecified, generic European country. Aided by the suitably glamorous Eva (Marisa Mell), Diabolik pulls off a series of wildly audacious raids culminating in an explosive assault on the nations tax institutions. Prodded by his increasingly-embarrassed minister-of-the-interior boss (Terry-Thomas), veteran cop Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli, dubbed) enlists the aid of gangland bigwigs in his fight against Diabolik, and eventually tracks down the uber-thief to his opulent underground lair…

Given that Bava is renowned for his extravagant use of colour, its unfortunate that this review is based on the screening of an abbreviated, black-and-white print*. Even so, on this unsatisfactory evidence Diabolik doesnt seem to have dated especially well. Scriptwriters Bava and Adriano Baracco cobble together spectacular and extravagant antics into a somewhat laborious plot that lumbering alternates between the stuffy, old-fashioned forces of law and order, and the strikingly futuristic world of their seemingly unstoppable foe. While Terry-Thomas splutters and fumes in suit and tie, Law and Mell get to strut around in a series of cutting-edge outfits in a subterranean pad that’s filled with ultra-modern design and architecture.

Its tempting to take this a step further, and interpret Diabolik in terms of 1960s Italian politics: our hero is a swashbuckling, opportunistic individualist, staging attacks on the manifestations of decent society. Hes the criminal as agent of iconoclastic (and anarchic?) social upheaval, railing against the staid morals of the post-war generation. But he goes too far the climax sees him engulfed by molten gold, and transformed into a living statue. While Bava coyly implies that he will escape to fight another day, at fade-out Diabolik stands as a symbol of the rampant capitalist imprisoned by the trappings of his own vulgarity.

But while Diabolik isnt without its intriguing subtexts, the film doesn’t hang together especially well as entertainment. Bava makes no attempt to hide Law and Mells acting limitations (both really are just a pretty face), this being presumably intended to be all part of the stylised, ironic fun. But a little of this kind of knowingly cheesy campery (this laser gun melts everything except you, honey!) goes rather a long way. The film is too silly for adults, but clearly not intended for children: this much is made clear by Ennio Morricones way-out, prog-synthy score – which is, nevertheless, the most consistently entertaining and impressive aspect of the whole overcooked affair.

Neil Young

28th February, 2004
(*82-minute black-and-white version seen CineSide, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 22nd February)

by Neil Young