Title: Danger: Diabolik
Director: Mario Bava
Writers: Arduino Maiuri, Brian Degas, Tudor Gates, Mario Bava (created by Angela and Luciana Giussani)
Distributed By: Paramount Pictures
Starring: John Philip Law, Marissa Mell, and Terry-Thomas
Release Date: January 24th, 1968
Batman wasn’t the only superhero fighting crime back in the 60s. Actually…Batman (1966) was pretty much the only superhero film out there during the 60s. But there was Danger: Diabolik, Italy’s #1 comic book anti-hero. Like Barbarella, it’s an Italian made, 60s psychedelic, Dino De Laurentiis experience. Which begs the question, is this a timeless classic? Or is Danger: Diabolik just another 60s film aged badly.
For starters, you do have to realize that this really is a 60s film. Whatever stock trope you can think of 60s Italian B-film, Danger: Diabolik does in spades. Camera zoom in while mystery motif plays? Check. Coastal highway car chase? Check. Warhol Factory parties with giant props? Double check. Whether intentional or unintentional, Danger: Diabolik is almost like a serious parody of its time, much like Barbarella.
But here lies the difference between Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik. Danger: Diabolik actually has a plot. Albeit not a stroke of masterpiece, but Danger: Diabolik still has a plot in what could be described as a cross between a heist film, James Bond, and Spaghetti films. Basically, Diabolik is a thieve’s thief who pulls off the biggest heists in Italy, including ten million dollars, an eleven-emerald necklace, and even solid gold with his girlfriend and partner Marisa Mell (Eva Kant). However, Inspector Ginko is hot on his trail, and criminal mastermind Ralph Valmont wants his revenge on Diabolik for causing the police to put the clampdown on criminals. Again, not the greatest plot, but it does keep the film rolling along and creates character chemistry. You know, actual story and not simply exploitation for exploitation’s sake.
With that being said, if you’re looking for some fast-paced, hot Italian action, you’ve come to the wrong place. Danger: Diabolik‘s greatest weakness, aside from its stiff acting and dated techniques, is the pacing by far. It’s a given that most 60s films are much slower than the new, ADHD made films, but Danger: Diabolik really does move at a snail’s pace. The difference between Danger: Diabolik and say, a Hitchcock film, is that while a Hitchcock film slows down the plot to show an engaging story line, or a Sergio Leone film keeps the pace slow to build up suspense and intrigue, Danger: Diabolik doesn’t have the character development or the story line to keep you from yawning. In fact, Danger: Diabolik is not only slow during the beginning, it’s slow throughout the entire film. Even when the plot thickens and the action begins.
What keeps Danger: Diabolik from being a bad 60s washout, is its style and cheese. It’s one of those films where if you like De Laurentiis style b-film, you’re probably going to like this. There’s a certain charm to Italian b-movies, and this is certainly no exception. This is probably in part due to Ennio Morricone’s score. Ennio Morricone scoring Danger: Diabolik is kind of like if Elmer Bernstein did the score for Batman. Morricone is arguably the greatest Italian film composer and hands down one of the best film composers ever. However, Danger: Diabolik is no The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly when it comes to film scores. Like the rest of the film, Morricone’s score has not aged with grace (not that it was graceful to begin with). But once again, that’s part of the charm. It sounds like…West Batman meets Morricone. Almost like a mix of surfer guitar, psychedelic, and a little bit of Italian spaghetti thrown in.
Is this the best classic comic book film you haven’t seen yet? Doubt it. But if you’re looking for some 60s fun, Danger: Diabolik is the film to watch. Despite its flaws, Mario Bava uses the cliches with precision, not to mention that it’s a sexy and fun film at its best moments. Oh, and there’s Terry-Thomas.