It’s hard to get much more over the top than the 1969 Italian film Danger Diabolik. It’s a sumptuous orgy of colours, sound and action, an anti establishment tale of a master criminal, that taps into the swinging psychedelic 60’s, with an abundance of sex, daring stunts and all manner of audacious absurdity. A nonstop frenzy of stylish escapades, a masked master criminal Diabolik (John Phillip Law/ Barbarella) and his statuesque blond lover Eva Kant (Marisa Mell/ Casanova 70) hold the government to ransom, effortlessly stealing millions of dollars, priceless jewels and eventually the biggest gold ingot you will ever see.
Everything is bigger, sexier and more joyfully ridiculous. It’s so much fun.
Its most infamous scene sees Diabolik and Eva making love on a revolving bed covered in millions of dollars after a successful heist. Classy.
It comes from a famous Italian comic, Diabolik, and possesses a similar kind of depth. Not much thought is given to character development. There are no great narrative arcs. It’s the sexiest roadrunner cartoon you will ever see. The hapless policeman in pursuit is Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli/ Contempt/ Belle De Jour), who despite his best efforts never quite manages to outwit his prey. The cast is rounded out by Terry-Thomas (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) who has a great time as the Minister of the Interior. Nothing is too much, during a press conference where the minister reintroduces the death penalty, Diabolik and Eva pose as journalists, releasing laughing gas to total hysteria.
Director Mario Bava (Planet of the Vampires), often known of the ‘Master of the Italian Horror,’ aims for pop art heaven with Danger Diabolik. The super cool at times quite cheeky Ennio Morricone (Once Upon A Time In The West) soundtrack, which sees him using sitar, guitar and human voice as well as all manner of weird experimental techniques is possibly one of his best. It’s difficult to over emphasise how good this score is and how much it does for the film.
Everything in Danger Diabolik is super cool. Over the top cool. It screams 60’s, from Diabolik’s skin tight black suit, to his jaguar sports car, to his underground lair, it’s a feast of style and comic book absurdity. What it isn’t however, and this is highlighted in much of the extra features, is camp. It is without doubt influenced by the Batman television series, though there are no knowing winks to the audience. It’s played straight, absurd maybe, but not camp. It’s James Bond in latex.
Given its an Imprint release there are an abundance of extra features including a commentary with Bava biographer Tim Lucas, as well as a commentary originally made for the laser disc release with Lucas and John Phillip Law. Both provide some pretty amazing context, and in particular highlight Bava’s extraordinary fx ability, and how Mell’s role was originally played by Catherine Deneuve. There’s also a great video essay by Kat Ellinger who has provided commentaries to previous Imprint releases. Probably the most bizarre extra feature is the music video of the Fatboy Slim remix of the Beastie Boys track Body Movin, which actually integrates clips of Danger Diabolik with close ups of the Beastie Boys playing all the parts. Adam Yauch contributes a commentary to the clip, highlighting his love of the film.
Danger Diabolik is so much fun. From its iconic imagery to its killer soundtrack, it’s one of those unique exotic works in cinema history where everything just went right. All the ingredients are perfect. Revisiting it 50 odd years later is nothing short of a joy.