Combustible Celluloid
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With: John Phillip Law, Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli, Adolfo Celi, Terry-Thomas
Written by: Mario Bava, Dino Maiuri, Brian Degas, Tudor Gates, based on a story by Angela Guissani, Luciana Guissani, Dino Maiuri, Adriano Baracco
Directed by: Mario Bava
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Language: English
Running Time: 100
Date: 01/23/1968

Danger: Diabolik (1968)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Crime Pays

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on an Italian comic book (or "fumetti"), this Mario Bava crime thriller has never enjoyed the devotion of Bava's horror films. It probably suffered from bad timing, released among the campy but similar movies Batman (1966) and Barbarella (1968). But looking at the film on Paramount's superb new DVD, it's clear that a neglected masterpiece of the genre has now emerged.

John Phillip Law plays the title character, a master criminal with an underground lair and a sexy, blond girlfriend (Marisa Mell). Wearing his creepy, black full body suit with only his sinister eyes and eyebrows showing, Diabolik is capable of stealing anything, whether it's large quantities of cash, heavily guarded jewels or huge chunks of gold.

Remarkably, the film erases all traditional values of good and evil, giving us instead a more interestingly ambiguous mixture. In making it, Bava clearly understood the notion of comic book panels and cinema frames, using whatever natural lines he could find to split the film frame up and visually capture an emotional state.

Bava was also a master in the use of colors, drowning his images in garish greens, yellow or reds depending on the mood, as well as astonishing height and depth of field. Each single shot in Danger: Diabolik gives the impression of enormous space and imagination. And yet, Bava was a cleverly economic filmmaker and constantly invented ways to cheat and manipulate the frame to make it look bigger and more extravagant than it really was.

The great Michel Piccoli (Contempt, I'm Going Home) plays the beleaguered cop hot on the bandit's trail, but always a step behind. Ennio Morricone composed the coyly effective score. All in all, Danger: Diabolik is an extraordinary film, and one that all aspiring filmmakers should see.

Paramount was wise enough to let the nerds and the fans put together their 2005 DVD release, and so we get a terrific commentary track by actor Law and Bava biographer Tim Lucas as well as an excellent making-of featurette, starring Law, comic book writer/cartoonist Stephen R. Bissette, Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, director Roman Coppola (CQ) and others. The disc also includes the Diabolik-inspired music video for the Beastie Boys' "Body Movin'" with optional commentary by Yauch, and two trailers. Zoetrope's Kim Aubry produced the disc. In 2020, Shout! Factory released a Blu-ray.

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