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DANGER: DIABOLIK (DIABOLIK) (director/writer: Mario Bava; screenwriter: story by Angela & Luciana Giussani; cinematographer: Antonio Rinaldi; editor: Romana Fortini; music: Ennio Morricone; cast: John Phillip Law (Diabolik), Terry-Thomas (Minister of the Interior), Michel Piccoli (Inspector Ginko), Adolfo Celi (Ralph Valmont), Marisa Mell (Eva Kant), Claudio Gora (Police Chief), Renzo Palmer (Minister’s Assistant), Caterina Boratto (Lady Clark), Giulio Donnini (Dr. Vernier), Giorgio Gennari (Rudy), Giuseppe Fazio (Tony); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Dino De Laurentiis; Paramount Home Entertainment; 1968-Italy/France-dubbed in English)
Stylish lightweight silly tongue-in-cheek B movie caper film.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Italian filmmaker Mario Bava (“Black Sabbath”/”Four Times That Night”/”Black Sunday”) directs this stylish lightweight silly tongue-in-cheek B movie caper film that’s a blend between a parody of James Bond and theFeuillade serial. It’s based on a popular Italian comic-strip created by Milan sisters Angela & Luciana Giussani, and is set during the psychedelic swinging 60s and tries to appeal to a counterculture audience.

The master criminal known as Diabolik (John Phillip Law) has been making fools out of the unnamed country’s police (probably Italy) by successfully pulling off a series of lucrative robberies. His latest caper is hijacking a heavily-guarded Rolls Royce carrying $10 million while abetted by his sexy girlfriend Eva (Marisa Mell), and when back in their Batman cave-like underground mod furnished hideout screwing her atop the rotating circular bed of money. Even though Diabolik steals millions from the government and kills innocents, he’s the film’s charming anti-establishment one-dimensional hero-villain.

The elusive scoundrel makes a mockery of a TV press conference that has the snooty Minister of the Interior (Terry-Thomas) announce that his government has reinstated the death penalty, asDiabolik and Eva pose as press photographers and drop a bomb of laughing gas. After that incident the Minister resigns and the frustrated police Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli) is given broad emergency powers that violate civil liberties. He uses them to crack down on all of mafia chief Valmont’s (Adolfo Celi) illegal activities from drugs to racketeering. This forces Valmont into making a deal with Ginko to help capture Diabolik or else he will be put out of business.

Diabolik scales a wall to steal the invaluable emerald necklace of visiting English dignitary Lady Clark (Caterina Boratto) in her heavily-guarded room,but through the use of his spy network Valmont is able to capture Eva later in the office of shady Dr. Vernier (Giulio Donnini). His right to practice medicine was revoked, and Valmont revokes his right to live for lying about not informing him about his patient Eva. Valmont holds Eva hostage and lures Diabolik into a trap to save her. But through marvelous daring feats, that include a free-fall from an airplane, the arch thief escapes the trap and blows up the nation’s tax records, making him a national hero. As a result, the government produces a twenty-ton gold ingot to raise currency and ships it by train. Diabolik then pulls off the impossible heist of the ingot, but gets his comeuppance when he’s turned into a gold statue as the gold melts during a shootout.

It’s so well-crafted with exquisite psychedelicsets and outlandish costumes, which makes this an enjoyable but goofy watch. But the acting is wooden, and the jokes are not that funny. The garish Day-Glo shot pic blends together a film that emulates the sensibilities of Batman (1966) and Barbarella (1968), as it tries to show that style triumphs over substance.

It did a good box office in Europe, but flopped in America.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”