Monday, April 24, 2006

'This laser gun can melt anything -- except you, honey'

The above is a direct quote from Danger: Diabolik, a movie that put a smile on my face that is only now starting to subside. Don't be swayed by its absurdly low rating at IMDB, 'Diabolik' is in a category all its own. That's partly to blame because it's a French-Italian production set in England, combining equal parts Batman and James Bond, drenched with the sharp style only the tail-end of the mod era could dare dream of.

There are movies based on comic books made every year, but 'Diabolik' is one of the few movies that feels like it is a comic book, and looking at it on paper, many would have suggested 'Diabolik' be produced on a paper medium. Here is our story: the lead character is anti-hero/criminal/playboy/terrorist Diabolik (John Phillip Law, who amazingly is of no relation to Jude Law), who confounds authorities with heists while dressed in his traditional leather catsuit and eluding them in various Jaguar XKE's to his underground lair (identical to the Batcave -- if it was designed by Ferrari) where he can cavort with Eva (imagine Goldie Hawn, but sexier, and Italian). Before the movie's over, Diabolik will have stolen $10 million in cash, a priceless emerald necklace and England's gold reserve. He will also demolish England's federal finance buildings -- seemingly out of spite and reduce a government press conference to hysterics using 'exhilirating gas.'

I was intrigued at the possibilities of 'Diabolik' after seeing that DVD Savant named it the most impressive DVD of 2005, but never imagined it would be this much fun. In addition to the aforementioned zany plot, you get high-speed chases on winding Italian roads, lots of maniacal cackles and the quirkiest Ennio Morricone score you've ever heard. The script is littered with clever, rhythmic word plays ('I was expecting you, Inspector') and the lavish sets are crammed with fun details (as he drives into his gargantuan lair in the beginning, try and spot a whole floor of spare Jags).

It's rare you find movies this good that have the 'bad guy' essentially as the main character, one who is not looking for any sympathy, just a lot of money for he and his femme fatale to roll around in. 'Diabolik' isn't trying to say anything, but it's one helluva snap shot from a creative time when movies like this could be made without trying to be too silly.

So why is 'Diabolik' so lightly regarded? By 1968, you couldn't make a movie like this with a straight face in the U.S., and it was still a gamble in Europe. The last good Connery 007 came out in '67 (You Only Live Twice) and the first of the spy spoofs was released in '66 (Our Man Flint, and even it sequel In Like Flint in '67), so at the time there wasn't exactly a salivating audience for something as wild as 'Diabolik.' It probably didn't help how obvious it was that 'Diabolik' was trying to cash in on the 'Batman' TV series which debuted in '66.

But with such a great DVD release, 'Diabolik' deserves to be recognized now. On the cheap ($12.99) disc, you get a commentary from Law and director Mario Bava's biographer and a couple of featurettes. The best extra shows how 'Diabolik' has established some sort of legacy: the Beastie Boys' video for 'Body Movin' (click here to watch the video) which uses footage from the movie and inserts the rappers in their own scenes. The video is on the disc, as well as commentary from the Beasties.

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