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
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