Danger Diabolik 1968
There’s one genre of superhero movies that I don’t have very much experience in just yet and that is the 60’s era of Eurospy movies. There was a large number of these pseudo James Bond-esque spy movies that are all over the place. Some of them involve masked spies, some involved less heroic protagonists, some were based on European comics from the time, and then there’s this one that combines all three of those. Diobolik was an Italian comic created by Angela and Luciana Guissani in ’62 where it ran for several years before this film was optioned by noted producer Dino De Laurentiis (and many years afterwards). The film also has the recognition of being the last televised episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 excluding the recently Kickstartered reboot series. But knowing that, it was surprisingly much more entertaining and watchable than most movies featured on MST3K. It was incredibly bizarre at times, but the director Mario Bava had a great visual eye, and the film had a fun mix of comedy and innuendo befitting an Austin Powers movie without the overt winks to the audience.
Diabolik himself is essentially what Batman would be if he were a master criminal rather than a master vigilante. He has a literal cave filled with gadgets, an elaborate safe, as well as a few 60’s era accouterments like a giant, circular, rotating bed and double rainfall showers with mod deco hanging frosted glass that are just big enough to cover the naughty bits. The film itself centers around three different heists that become increasingly more elaborate and difficult as well as one more random bit where he blows up several tax records buildings.
Going through some of the individual heists there are plenty of fun moments. The first heist seems like a typical set up for a skilled thief, the government is transporting ten million dollars in newly printed US currency, but they’re using a decoy. The armored car merely has $10M in blank bills while the actual money is placed in an expensive looking Rolls Royce driven by three officers dressed as members of high society. But Diabolik is on top of it and blows a Joker-esque plume of colored smoke and lifts the Rolls with a giant net and a crane. The second heist probably gets the most screen time where Diabolik goes after this giant emerald necklace for his love and partner Eva which is holed up in this fancy castle surrounded by dozens of guards even though we only really see about five. The final one is the most ridiculous as it involved much of the country’s gold reserves melted into this giant 20 ton ingot to be transported by train. Diabolik goes through this elaborate plan involving several different explosions and an underwater scuba craft plus a dozen or so balloons to steal the ingot.
What does work well throughout this film is Bava’s visual style. Nearly everyone in this film doesn’t seem like they’re just standing around, instead it seems like they are all deliberately posed for maximum artistic effect. The sets were also chosen for their stylistic flair rather than any utilitarian aspects. It feels very 60’s with plenty of vivid color, geometric shapes, and sharp lines. The women also tend to display plenty of skin without any actual nudity. Eva herself plays an indirect role in most of the heists either as a look out, the one scoping the scene, or the getaway driver. When things get too hairy, Diabolik usually tells her to run away, but she’s also the one who tends to be the one to come back if Diabolik himself gets in a little too deep. As a character, Diabolik is an odd creature. He’s a man of very few words, he doesn’t even speak until about 20 minutes into the movie. He plays it cool and loose, but he’s also not hesitant to gun someone down. He is supposed to be likable in a way, but he’s just robbing for the fun of it. There isn’t the Robin Hood aspect where he’s stealing from criminals, instead he’s stealing from the government who seems to be fairly inept, but isn’t portrayed to be corrupt at all. The only bit of “good” that he does is when they put a million dollar reward out on him, he retaliates by blowing up all the tax buildings with the tax records so the country doesn’t have to pay their taxes.
The music from Ennio Morricone who just won his first Oscar this year was a lot of fun, though it did occasionally get repetitive. There were about three main themes that would go back and forth, from the action spy theme to the sexy time theme as well as the odd 60’s beach party style theme. Plus, every time Diabolik’s car would come on screen, he would get his own great little guitar riff. Diabolik’s costume was also rather unusual. It was essentially a full body, black scuba suit with the area where the goggles would be cut out like a reverse domino mask, and he also had an alternate white costume that he used in the emerald necklace heist so he wouldn’t stand out against the white walls of the castle as he was scaling them. The effects and stunts tended to be hit and miss, there was quite a bit of obvious green screen during most of the interior driving shots, while the long shots featured a couple nice looking Jaguars. All in all, it was a very fun watch, from all the incredible visual elements to the self-effacing comedy from the government agents. It felt quite a bit like an inspiration at times for Austin Powers, especially during the scene where they are literally naked underneath piles of loose money. It’s worth a watch either by itself, or at least via the MST3K episode. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.