REVIEW: Diabolik [1968]

“Anti exhilarating gas pills”

Ah, Italian cinema from the late 60’s. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, Mario Bava brings the world an adaptation of the comic Diabolik. Complete with cheesy set pieces, laughable heists, and over-the-top sexuality, this film may not be quite bad enough to be good, but it isn’t enough to be bad either. A lot is fun here and that must count for something. Feel free to check your brain at the door, (or perhaps you shouldn’t even wake up that morning with it), because once you start questioning how emeralds can be shot out of a gun without gunpowder, the charm will be missed. There are enough sci-fi aspects to bring it out of the reality we think of, so when craziness occurs, please just go with the flow. It will be a better experience as a result and our villian’s, (or is he the hero?), winks at the audience will bring a smile rather than an eye roll as you press the stop button on your remote control.

I couldn’t help but think about one of my favorite films CQ while watching this. From the camerawork of the car chase scenes, to the conveniently placed circles on the shower doors, to the bed romp with money, Roman Coppola’s film borrowed a lot. However, what his film had was a dramatic storyline about the director of the cheesy sci-fi film being created rather than just be about that overblown story itself. Diabolik is its own tale without any meta-narrative aspects, so the fun factor did leave the building after the first couple heists. Once you steal 10 million dollars and then a priceless emerald necklace, does the theft of a gigantic bar of gold really hold any interest? Not really for me because it becomes the same recycled plotline over and over again with incompetent government police on his tail. For a 100-minute film, it did drag a lot for me, more for the repetition than anything else. Everyone is having a grand ol’ time so it is definitely fun to enjoy the ride, a little variety would have been nice though.

There are moments that did definitely work. Diabolik scaling a tower wall with suction cup gadgets and spying the catapult on top is great fun; his girlfriend Eva’s sex appeal getting a truck driver to abandon his car is obvious yet well done; and the new Financial Minister’s plea to the public to pay what they believe they owe in taxes is priceless. Without any real plot other than the police trying to catch a master criminal and his girl while they get away with all the goods, it is definitely the parts more than the whole that you should focus on. I wouldn’t be surprised if the adaptation is from multiple comics in the series, strung together here as a cohesive whole when they may have been solitary books. The fact that our mob boss Ralph Valmont is dispatched so early on helps me believe this because is surely felt as though that would end the film, but no, it keeps on going to the next great caper.

With hammy acting and some down right horrid actors, there is no way a movie like this wouldn’t have a cult following, even if not directed by a schlock master like Bava. Marisa Mell is femme fatale to the fullest, never allowed to show she is anything more than an accomplice for the love of her man; Adolfo Celi is campy in all the right ways as Valmont, a brazen crime boss who thinks he’s one step ahead but always two steps behind; and Michel Piccoli tries his best to be the straight man amongst the eccentrics as Inspector Ginko, the man who has made it his life work to catch Diabolik. However, the entire film hinges on the great facial expressions and calm coolness of our lead played by John Phillip Law. His stone-faced serious delivery of lines like, “don’t worry, I could walk on the sun with this suit,” are just plain top-notch. The painted on tight rubber wardrobe allow for his eyes to take center stage as they attempt to frighten us with their diabolic nature and the sly smile of success is great whenever he outsmarts the authorities. Law takes the role so seriously that the absurdity works even more as he thwarts the advances by those looking to capture him. This is Diabolik, the greatest criminal of our time, not even liquid gold can keep him down.

Diabolik 5/10 | ★ ★


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