Monday, November 16, 2009

#429: Danger: Diabolik (1968)

Director: Mario Bava
Cast: John Phillip Law, Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli & Adolfo Celi

A super criminal with the code name 'Diabolik' is capable of stealing millions as easily as a blink of an eye. He does it all for his girlfriend, Eva Kant. The chaos and anarchy he stirs up has gotten people fired from the government for their inability to stop Diabolik's crimes. Inspector Ginko realizes he needs help from people on the other side of society, bribing crime lord Ralph Valmont to help him capture Diabolik.

I'm at a loss for words on this one. At first, I shrugged this one off as a campy 60's comic-to-film. The music by Morricone is insane, with trumpets and saxophones blaring over cymbals crashing and sitars wailing -- with the occasional cutesy bassoon solo. The color and camerawork are performed to be as dynamic as possible. And the strangest thing I noticed was its lack of dialogue. I wouldn't be surprised if Diabolik had a running total of about 15 lines.

I decided to research a bit beyond RottenTomatoes, Wikipedia and IMDB on this one, because some people are just crazy for this film. This article from blogger DVD Savant helped me to understand a bit better why this film has become a bit of a cult classic. Of course this film is dated - it's a comic super villain story from the 60's, what should I have expected?

The color and angles are a fantastic way of going about making the film closer to the comic book. In fact, Tim Burton cited director Mario Bava as one of his greatest influences, which many people lead to believe that this film was an influence on the Batman films. Rather than dialogue, this film focuses on visuals, which is exactly what comic books are all about. And it's undeniable that some of these visuals will stick in your mind, especially its iconic image of Diabolik making love to Eva on a rotating bed absolutely littered in cash.

A part of the reason this film never hit it as big in America as it did in Europe is the American focus on both dialogue and special effects. It took me a few minutes to figure that one out, but it's true. Nearly all films coming out of America are focused on special effects (take a look at any blockbuster for evidence) or dialogue (take a look at the Academy Awards last year: Doubt, Revolutionary Road, The Reader). It seems that European audiences have more of an eye for visuals and the artistic merit of film, which has come across through this film. While Diabolik became a classic in Europe, trailers in America focused on gadgetry and (limited) dialogue, which just wasn't the film's fortes, leading to limited theatrical releases and negative reviews.

It's an interesting film to see from a historical perspective, but far too outdated for my tastes. A lot of people say it's a great, fun film to watch even today, so give it a chance if you're interested in the psychadelic, super-suave crime scene.

Fun Trivia (Stolen from IMDB):
  • The movie is based on "Diabolik", one of the longest running - and most successful - Italian comic strips. It was created by Angela Giussani and Luciana Giussani, two Milan sisters who built a small and very profitable publishing empire out of the "King of Terror"'s success. In the paper version, "Diabolik" is much more sinister than its cinematic counterpart - he's a criminal fighting evil with evil, often resorting to murder to "punish" the evildoers he meets. The movie was made assuming some knowledge of the comic strip, thus explaining the negative reaction it gets outside Italy.
  • DIABOLIK was designed by producer Dino De Laurentiis (later responsible for the infamously mammoth remakes of KING KONG and HURRICANE), and enabled Bava to work with a much larger budget ($3,000,000) and a more prestigious cast than he was accustomed to, but he remained true to his principles, relying on imagination rather than money, and brought the film in massively under budget at a mere $400,000. De Laurentiis was so thrilled, in fact, that he offered Bava the opportunity to make a sequel with the left over money, but Bava had by then tired of working with the producer and decided to pass.

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