Italian film poster
|Directed by||Mario Bava|
|Produced by||Dino De Laurentiis|
by Angela and Luciana Giussani
|Music by||Ennio Morricone|
|Edited by||Romana Fortini|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||₤265 million (Italy)|
Danger: Diabolik (Italian: Diabolik) is a 1968 action film directed and co-written by Mario Bava, based on the Italian comic series Diabolik by Angela and Luciana Giussani. The film is about a criminal named Diabolik (John Phillip Law), who plans large-scale heists for his girlfriend Eva Kant (Marisa Mell). Diabolik is pursued by Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli), who blackmails the gangster Ralph Valmont (Adolfo Celi) into catching Diabolik for him.
An adaptation of the comics was originally envisioned by producer Tonino Cervi, who hired director Seth Holt and began producing the film as an international co-production with a cast that included Jean Sorel, Elsa Martinelli and Gilbert Roland. Appalled with the quality of the footage that had been shot, distributor Dino De Laurentiis took over production duties and restarted filming from scratch. Working from a new screenplay and under creative pressure from De Laurentiis, Bava directed the film on a reduced budget, with established actors taking smaller roles. The film was produced in tandem with De Laurentiis' other comic book adaptation of that year, Barbarella, with both films sharing several cast and crew members.
Upon its theatrical release, Danger: Diabolik performed below De Laurentiis' expectations at the box office, and received negative reviews from The New York Times and Variety. With the re-evaluation of Bava's filmography, retrospective reception of the film has been more positive, with critics praising its visuals, the performances of Law and Mell, and the score by Ennio Morricone. Two new adaptations of Diabolik were announced in the 2000s, but neither went into production.
In the European country of Clerville, Police Inspector Ginko oversees the transportation of $10 million from a bank. To prevent the master thief Diabolik from stealing the money, he creates a diversion whereby an armoured car from the bank transports waste paper, while a team of himself and disguised officers take the real money in a Rolls Royce. The plan is still foiled by Diabolik, who escapes with the money and his lover Eva Kant to their underground hideout, where they passionately make love on top of their loot.
Diabolik and Eva attend a press conference held by the Minister of the Interior, who reinstates the death penalty to dissuade criminals such as themselves; they disrupt the conference by releasing exhilarating gas into the crowd. With the police unable to find Diabolik, Ginko and his fellow officers are granted emergency privileges that allow them to crackdown on the illegal activities of gangster Ralph Valmont, who they hope will aid them in capturing him. Realizing their plan, Valmont makes a deal with Ginko in exchange for a light sentence.
While watching a news report with Eva, Diabolik decides to steal the famous Aksand emerald necklace from Saint Just Castle for her birthday. After learning of Eva's features from a prostitute who spotted her scouting the Castle, Valmont builds and circulates an identikit image of her. Diabolik scales the Castle's sheer walls as the police lie in wait, and steals the necklace. Driving on his getaway, he and Eva fool the police by pulling a mirrored film across the road and using dummy decoys of himself; Eva is injured while helping him to set up the traps.
While visiting her private doctor (who has been blackmailed by Valmont), Eva is recognised from the identikit image and abducted. To rescue her, Diabolik boards Valmont's airplane with the stolen $10 million and the necklace to trade for Eva. He is ejected from the plane, but manages to grab Valmont just before a bomb he had planted earlier explodes. Diabolik rescues Eva as Ginko and the police close in on them. Eva makes her escape, while Diabolik loads a gun magazine with the emeralds and fires then at Valmont, killing him. Diabolik takes a capsule and appears to have died while being taken to the hospital by the police. As the police hold a press conference about Diabolik's death, he is about to be autopsied when he returns to life. Diabolik reveals that he has faked his death using a technique taught to him by Tibetan lamas.
Posing as a nurse, Eva wheels Diabolik past the police and the press. Later, a disguised Diabolik visits the morgue where Valmont's body has been cremated, collects the emeralds from his ashes and escapes, gifting them to Eva. Upon Ginko's realization that Diabolik is still alive, a million-dollar reward is offered for his capture; in retaliation, Diabolik blows up the tax offices. Despite pleas from the disgraced Minister of the Interior — now the Minister of Finance — the citizens refuse to pay their taxes, forcing Clerville into debt. Twenty tons of gold, which will be used to buy currency, are melted into a single block to make it difficult to steal; the block is loaded onto a train commandeered by Ginko. Diabolik and Eva divert the train by leaving a burning truck on the tracks and re-route it to a bridge where a bomb is placed. It explodes when the train arrives, and the gold falls into the water below. As Ginko swims ashore, Diabolik and Eva collect the gold and return to their hideout.
The steel casket containing the gold is traced by the police, allowing them to track Diabolik's hideout. They close in on Diabolik, who is melting the gold into smaller ingots. As the police fire upon him, Diabolik is unable to control the smelting, and the whole cavern ends up being covered in molten gold. Diabolik is believed to have been killed, with his heat-proof suit now covered in solidified gold. The police seal off the cavern, intending to recover the gold later. As Ginko arrives to arrest her, Eva is allowed to pay her respects to Diabolik, who winks at her.
- John Phillip Law as Diabolik
- Marisa Mell as Eva Kant
- Michel Piccoli as Inspector Ginko
- Adolfo Celi as Ralph Valmont
- Terry-Thomas as Minister of the Interior, then Minister of Finance
- Claudio Gora as Police Chief
- Mario Donen as Sergeant Danek
- Renzo Palmer as Mr. Hammond
- Caterina Boratto as Lady Clark
- Lucia Modugno as Prostitute
- Annie Gorassini as Rose
- Carlo Croccolo as Lorry Driver
- Lidia Biondi as Policewoman
- Andrea Bosic as Bank Manager
- Federico Boido as Valmont's Henchman
- Tiberio Mitri as Valmont's Henchman
- Francesco Mulè as Man in Morgue
- Giulio Donnini as Dr. Vernier
Producer Tonino Cervi, head of the production company Italy Film, was the first person to propose a film adaptation of Angela and Luciana Giussani's Diabolik, a pioneering example of the "fumetti neri" subgerne of Italian comics. During this period, Andre Hunebelle's film Fantomas was popular. Cervi was ambiguous when describing his production, stating once that "I think that with a few retouches Diabolik could turn into an extraordinary character for the silver screen." In another interview, he acknowledged that "nowadays a good film based on Flash Gordon would be a sensational success [...] but it would cost as much as Cleopatra. I have to settle for something more modest, so I'm doing Diabolik." Cervi's initial intention was to use the profits earned from Diabolik to finance an anthology film directed by Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, and Akira Kurosawa.
Italy Film acquired the adaptation rights from Astorina, the Giussanis' publishing house, for 20 million lire and proposed a distribution deal with Dino De Laurentiis. This deal would involve 100 million lire in advance, in exchange for the distribution rights for the film in perpetuity. De Laurentiis advanced 70 million lire, and put together a co-production deal between Italy, France (Les Films Marceau-Cocinor), and Spain (A.S. Film Produccion and Impala). The first drafts of the script were written by comic book writers Pier Carpi and Corrado Farina, who also worked in television advertising. These drafts were later revised by screenwriters Giampiero Bona and Fabrizio Onofri, who were told to tone down the violence. Onofri and Bona's screenplay also added an emphasis on comedy that was present in the Fantomas films. The film was helmed by British director Seth Holt, and French actor Jean Sorel was chosen to play Diabolik. Other roles included Elsa Martinelli as Eva Kant and George Raft as Diabolik's enemy, Richness. Principal photography began on September 20, 1965, in Malaga, Spain, but halted when Raft became sick on set and was replaced with Gilbert Roland. The film finished shooting on November 13. After viewing Holt's footage, De Laurentiis temporarily aborted the film's production, stating that the footage shot "was of a level so low, both from an artistic and commercial point of view, as to make us clearly understand that to continue on that path meant heading toward disaster."
De Laurentiis felt the only way to save the film was to restart production with a new script and director. The other production companies were not content with De Laurentiis stopping production, which led Les Films Marceau-Cocinor to terminate its contract with Italy Film. A.S. Film Produccion confiscated the footage and took cameras, costumes, and weapons that had been rented by Italy Film, which nearly bankrupted the company. De Laurentiis restarted production with financial backing from distributor Paramount Pictures, and hired Mario Bava as director. The budget was also cut to 200 million lire, less than half of the original budget.
The script for Danger: Diabolik was written by Dino Maiuri, Tudor Gates, Brian Degas, and Bava. The screenplay was adapted from three different Diabolik stories: Sepolto vivo! ("Buried Alive!") from August 1963, Lotta disperata ("Desperate Fight") from March 1964, and L'ombra nella notte ("Shadow In The Night") from May 1965. Degas and Gates would later work on Danger: Diabolik's sister production, Barbarella, which was another comic book adaptation. Film editor Romana Fortini and cinematographer Antonio Rinaldi were also brought in, having worked with Bava on his previous films such as Planet of the Vampires and Kill, Baby, Kill. Other crew members included future Academy Award winners, such as set designer Carlo Rambaldi (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial) and composer Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight).
John Philip Law was invited to audition for Diabolik as a favour by De Laurentiis after production on Barbarella, which Law had been cast in as Pygar, was postponed due to technical difficulties. An avid comic book fan since childhood, Law was initially unfamiliar with the characters in Diabolik, and read several of the comics to understand his character, as he had done when preparing for Barbarella. Due to the character's face and body usually being dressed in a black or white skin-tight jumpsuit, Law noted that the most prominent aspect of Diabolik's appearance was his eyebrows; he prepared for the role by applying mascara to his own, and taught himself to convey a wide array of expressions with them. Upon meeting with De Laurentiis and Bava, the director exclaimed "Ah, questo Diabolik!" ("This is Diabolik!"), indicating to Law that he had won the role. Budgetary changes led to established actors being cast in smaller roles, including Adolfo Celi as Valmont, Michel Piccoli as Ginko, and Terry-Thomas as the Minister of Finance.
Casting Eva Kant proved particularly troublesome. The role was originally going to be played by an unidentified American model who was cast at the behest of her friend, Gulf+Western (the-then parent company of Paramount) President Charles Bluhdorn. Law noted that the model was "gorgeous, but couldn't say 'Hello' on film", and was eventually fired a week into filming. Roger Vadim suggested to De Laurentiis that he cast his ex-fiancée Catherine Deneuve as Eva. Law felt that Bava was against this idea, and felt personally that Deneuve was wrong for the role: "There was no chemistry between us. She was very sweet, and a very good actress, but she was simply not right for the part." After a week of shooting with Deneuve, Bava and De Laurentiis decided that she should be replaced. Bava was given the opportunity to recast Eva and selected Marilù Tolo, who he would later cast in Roy Colt & Winchester Jack. De Laurentiis, who had previously cast the actress in Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die and The Witches, disliked Tolo and instead hired Bava's secondary choice, Marisa Mell. Law spoke fondly of his on and off-screen chemistry with Mell, and found Bava to be a cooperative, amiable director who allowed them to express vulnerability and create "magic moments" throughout the film.
Danger: Diabolik began filming on April 11, 1967, and was shot at a Fiat plant in Turin, on location in Rome, and at the Blue Grotto in Capri. In a 1970 interview with Luigi Cozzi, Bava described the filming as "nightmarish", and said that De Laurentiis had him tone down the violent scenes in the film. Law commented that both the producer and director had opposite ideas for the film: De Laurentiis wanted to make a family-friendly film with a charming thief, while Bava wanted to make a film that was faithful to the comic books. Danger: Diabolik finished filming on June 18, 1967. Law stated that shortly after the film's production ended, shooting began on Barbarella. This led to the same sets, such as the set for Valmont's night club, being used in both films.
Danger: Diabolik's release was highly anticipated in Italy, and this led to De Laurentiis threatening to sue producers of films whose titles were similar to his, such as Superargo Versus Diabolicus and Arriva Dorellik. Danger: Diabolik was submitted to the Italian Board of Censors in December 1967 and, after five brief cuts were made to the film, it was released in Italy on January 24, 1968. The film was described by Curti as a "financial disappointment for De Laurentiis" with a gross of only slightly more than 265 million lire. It opened in Paris in April 1968 under the title Danger Diabolik. In the United States, the film opened in New York in December 1968.
Danger: Diabolik was released on DVD by Paramount Pictures on June 14, 2005. The DVD includes an audio commentary by John Phillip Law and Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas, as well as the music video for "Body Movin'" by the hip-hop group the Beastie Boys. Reviews of the disc by Cinefantastique, DVD Talk and Video Librarian praised the release, noting a high-quality digital transfer and the plethora of extra features. The DVD is now out of print.
Two English-language dubs of Danger: Diabolik were produced, both featuring the voices of Law, Mell and Terry-Thomas. The original English version, used for the film's theatrical and DVD release, presented the remaining cast dubbed with predominantly British accents. The second version, used for the film's VHS and LaserDisc release (as well as its showing on Mystery Science Theater 3000), was created when the original sound elements for the dubbed version (aside from those of the three aforementioned performers) were believed to be lost; the non-English-speaking actors were dubbed with American accents. This version also greatly remixed the audio levels for the sound effects and music, and dropped the Danger: from the original English version's title due to using an Italian print. Glenn Erickson considers the second English version to be "terrible" compared to the original, deeming Celi and Piccoli's performances in particular to be negatively affected by the inferior acting of their newer dubbers. The audio masters for the original English version were eventually recovered by Kim Aubry of American Zoetrope, who produced Paramount's DVD release.
From contemporary reviews, Howard Thompson of The New York Times gave a brief negative review of Danger: Diabolik referring to the film as "infantile junk." Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film a two and a half star rating out of four, stating that he felt it was better than the other Dino De Laurentiis production Barbarella, but that it was "long and eventually loses track of itself." Variety gave the film a negative review, calling it a "dull Dino De Laurentiis programmer" whose "[b]izarre sets, poor process work, static writing and limp direction spell pure formula fare for lowercase grind bookings." The Monthly Film Bulletin gave the film a positive review, noting that: "Bava's superb visual sense stands him in good stead in this comic-strip adventure which looks like a brilliant pastiche of the best of everything in anything from James Bond to Matt Helm."
In a 2012 issue of Film International, John Berra described the film's contemporary reception, noting that the film had initially "been left to languish in obscurity since its staggered international release at the end of the 1960s" and that it "mostly existed as a kitsch reference point or as an easy target for tongue-in-cheek parody." Examples of this are seen in the Beastie Boys music video for "Body Movin'" (1998) and the film being featured on the final episode of the original Mystery Science Theater 3000 series shown on Sci-Fi Channel on August 8, 1999. The television show provided mocking commentary over a film interspersed with sketches while Beastie Boys member Adam Yauch found the film to be "campy in a way, but not in a bad way" and describes the acting and direction as "ridiculous" but with the set design being "so over the top the acting is appropriate." Writer Jim Vogel ranked the episode slightly lower, at #75 (out of 191 total MST3K episodes). Vogel calls the series' ending "a fairly satisfying conclusion" and says the movie is "entertaining enough ... it’s hard not to appreciate the technicolor splendor and absurd costuming."  The film's status as a cult film grew gradually as studies of Bava's career began, and with its 2007 DVD release which explored the film's relation to its comic book roots. Berra described the film as being "warmly received" by the Internet community, who routinely embraces comic book adaptations and seeks to adopt films that have been neglected by popular audiences.
Glenn Erickson discussed Danger: Diabolik twice on DVD Talk (in 1998 and 2005); describing the film as a guilty pleasure, he praised Bava's stylized visuals, noting his use of bright colours, elaborate sets and wide lenses, "giving almost every shot a distorted depth that lends the film a consistent comic book dynamism". While noting the minimal characterization of Diabolik himself (describing him as "the final distillation of the idea that we love criminals because we secretly admire the transgressions they represent"), he felt that Marisa Mell's portrayal of Eva presented her as loving Diabolik "on a romantic plane of surprising believability. [...] [Her] adoring faithfulness is so physical and pure that the sincerity of their farewell ("You'll not be alone while I live!") is tenderly affecting." Erickson also admired Terry-Thomas' campy portrayal of the Minister of Interior, describing his news conference as "easily outdo[ing] TV's Batman." Thematically, he has noted that Diabolik's desire to steal for himself and Eva "represent[s] the ultimate end of materialist consumerism", as well as "the rollercoaster Italian politics of the time, which seemed to flip-flop from conservative to socialist and back again on a weekly basis;" Erickson also mentions that "Diabolik's world stresses strangely fetishistic surfaces and textures, backing up film theorist Raymond Durgnat's assertion that the psychic land of pulp fantasy is fundamentally a sexual one."
Video Librarian noted that the film was "guaranteed to delight viewers whose tastes run to the outré", praising Ennio Morricone's score, Law and Mell's acting, and noting that the "real star is Bava" stating that "the film is colorful almost to the point of garishness." Cinefantastique also discussed the film's visuals, noting that: "[Bava's] color rich, brilliantly artificial-looking compositions were the cinematic equivalent of comic book art even before he tackled the form." The magazine also found that the special effects rivalled those of Ken Adam, who worked on the Bond films. The review also praised Law's work in the film noting his "amazingly expressive eyebrows" and declared the film as "1960s pop-culture heaven." Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (The A.V. Club) compared the film to Barbarella, opining that Diabolik had "a sense of infectious, amoral fun" which Barbarella lacks. He declared the film to be among "the definitive touchstones of Euro pulp." Empire included the film on its list of the top 500 greatest films. They described the movie as "thin as a poster, but still amazing cinema – a succession of striking, kinetic, sexy, absurd images accompanied by a one-of-a-kind Ennio Morricone score that revels in its casual anarchy."
Aftermath and influence
The release of Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik led to a minor trend of film adaptations of comic strips that emphasized mild sadomasochism and late 1960s fetish gear. Diabolik was the first of three European comic strip adaptations released in 1968, the other two being Piero Vivarelli's Satanik and Roger Vadim's Barbarella. These films were followed by Bruno Corbucci's Ms. Stiletto and Corrado Farina's Baba Yaga (1973). The look of Diabolik influenced the comic series. The film's audiences could see Diabolik's mouth because Law's mask was made of latex. This resulted in the comic's artists Enzo Facciolo and Sergio Zaniboni giving up on trying to shade in his mouth and simply outlining it.
In the early 2000s, a new feature film based on the Diabolik comics to be directed by Christophe Gans and starring Mark Dacascos and Monica Bellucci was in the planning stages. Gans opined that: "The Bava film is unique and I'd never, ever want to copy it. But let's see where we can take Diabolik today for a totally new and different Pop art experience." The film has not gone into production. In 2002, screenwriter Mario Gomboli announced a French production of Diabolik was to be made with a contemporary setting and a script written by Carlo Lucarelli and Giampiero Rigosi. A script was completed in April 2007, with filming set to begin in January 2008, but the production stalled.
British director Edgar Wright cited Danger: Diabolik as an influence on his film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, describing it as an "Italian influence, a sense of completely unbridled imagination. They don't make any attempt to make it look realistic. Mario Bava's composition and staging has a real try-anything attitude."
- List of films based on comics
- List of Italian films of 1968
- List of French films of 1968
- List of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes
- Terry-Thomas on screen, radio, stage and record
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