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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Adventure > Superhero > Spy > Italian > Danger: Diabolik (Paramount DVD)

Danger: Diabolik

 

Picture: B-     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Film: B

 

 

One of the more interesting, fun, influential, amusing and lasting of the Pop Art Action films of the 1960s is Mario Bava’s Danger: Diabolik.  The 1967 (released in the U.S. in 1968) Italian Dino De Laurentiis-produced favorite somehow manages to understand James Bond and Batman, and run with both without degenerating into silliness and stupidity like so many other films like it (Modesty Blaise especially) did in the wake of those two crazes.  We will Give Lichtenstein and Warhol some credit as well, though this film does not go that far.

 

John Philip Law is a “robs from the rich” character who goes to some outlandish lengths to steal his millions, which makes it part of the many heist films of its time as well.  Based on the much darker Italian comic strip by Angela & Luciana Giussani, the film is a colorful, upbeat romp that manages to hold together very well for its 100 minutes length.  As a matter of fact, Bava does this with such a sense of panache and classiness that it manages to succeed where the 1966 disappointment Batman: The Movie and 1967 Bond spoof version of Casino Royale failed because Bava dodged the mistake they fell into.

 

Like so many of the Bond rip-offs of the time, the premise most of the bad ones were built on (and so many bad remakes and sequels are made on today, attributing to some of the worst cinema ever) is that this is all comedy and all a joke.  Batman: The Movie took itself too seriously, while Casino Royale tried far too much to be a comedy and was even less funny.  That everything is a joke or genre stories do not deserve to be taken seriously with any degree of respect is the ultimate recipe for disaster.  The Bond series has even had fluctuations on this dilemma.

 

Bava takes the material seriously enough, though he knows he is doing a lighter, more colorful version of the original.  The cliché now is to degrade the image and drain it of color, as if that meant realism.  This film knows it is of the fantastic variety, yet is more adult than similar such films (and TV series) in its mature treatment of sexuality, wealth and mood.  There is nothing slapstick about the film and it breaks the current myth that all honest, serious films about comics have to be dark, colorless, violent and realistic like a graphic novel.  Sure, Sin City is impressive and From Hell is more and more underrated everyday, but to limit the ever-disrespected comic book medium to being so “serious” or so “pop” is a mistake and misses the point of why they are an art form or why they keep coming back as TV series, animated programs and feature films again and again.

 

That this film is coming out in the midst of the strongest commercial and critical cycle of comic books as feature films is appropriate.  Where films like The Hulk were idiotic Right-leaning revisions of a great character done better on TV to all but a few cult fans, while Elektra (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and Constantine were bad supernatural films badly disguised as Superhero genre films, Danger: Diabolik loves the comic book, knows its power and knows that power can come from its classic rainbow of colors configuration.  The character is a thief, already a violation of typical Superhero genre conventions, but it does link him to the likes of Simon Templar, the moral-centered troubleshooting manipulator played perfectly by Roger Moore in the 1960s Saint TV series so well (also reviewed elsewhere on this site).  He simply becomes the lesser of two evils and someone Bava could do something with, including put the characters in a more realistic world more associated with outright thrillers than previous feature films, TV series and movie serials with Superheroes could.

 

That includes casting Adolfo Celi, the evil Largo from the James Bond film Thunderball (1965) as the main villain here.  The conclusion of the film may be more in tune with its era, which is in the spirit of the film, time and original comic book.  The cast has many Bava regulars and offers some of the most influential and memorable work the director ever made.  Bava was a master filmmaker doing work that often exceeded the genres he helped to build up.  His contributions alone make Danger: Diabolik a must-see for anyone who is serious about film and filmmaking.

 

The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image was shot in an obscure format known as Panoramica, which had various aspect ratios up to 2.35 x 1 scope, but is used here as a “flat” widescreen format.  Not to be confused with Panoramico, it seems to be in the minority of a handful of films not to go scope with the format.  Bava did much of the cinematography uncredited and was an expert cameraman, but Antonio Rinaldi was also rightly credited and the use of comic book type framing is far superior to Ang Lee’s overkill attempt on The Hulk, while the use of color is exceptional.  This is a fine transfer of the film, but the original release was in dye-transfer three-strip Technicolor, something this print does not always reflect.  The film still has never looked so good on video and one thing to recommend you try out when you get this disc is to turn up the color when you watch it and see what results you get.

 

The Dolby Digital 2.0 English Mono is nice and clean, though an Italian track would have been fun.  This is one of two English dubs to date, with Diabolik spoken more like its English pronunciation versus “Dee-a-ball-ik” and not to be confused with the French thriller or awful American remake of Les Diabolique (1955, then 1996).  The other highlight of the soundtrack is another one of Ennio Morricone’s classic film scores, presumed lost on its own, but sounding good here.

 

Extras include the original teaser and trailer for the film, the classic Body Movin’ music video by The Beastie Boys that remarkably recreated the film and its spirit in tribute to it.  The audio commentary by Adam “MCA” Yauch seems to have been borrowed from the terrific Criterion Beastie Boys Anthology set.  There is also an outstanding audio commentary by Law and Tim Lucas, who has written a biography on Bava (due soon) and runs the always-impressive Video Watchdog Magazine.  Add the terrific Danger: Diabolik – From Fumetti To Film featurette running a very informative 20+ minutes, and you have a shockingly loaded single DVD, especially from Paramount, who should do this kind of thing more often.  This is a very collectible disc and the kind of treatment Danger: Diabolik deserved.  Bravo!

 

 

-   Nicholas Sheffo


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