Paramount Studios presents
Danger: Diabolik (1968)
"He also seems to derive a great deal of pleasure from making fun of our entire police force."- Minister of Interior (Terry-Thomas)
Stars: John Philip Law. Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli
Other Stars: Adolfo Celi, Claudio Gora, Terry-Thomas
Director: Mario Bava
Manufacturer: Zoetrope Aubry Productions
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for (violence, sensuality)
Run Time: 01h:40m:11s
Release Date: 2005-06-14
DVD ReviewParamount always seems to have been embarrassed by the fact that they hold the rights to several acknowledged Eurocult classics. Even though we're seven years into the DVD era, only now has Paramount seen fit to issue this classic by Mario Bava, adapted from the popular Italian fumetti (comics). The film stays true to its comic roots through both its outlandishness and its kineticism, though it refrains from taking on the camp aspect of the Batman television series, which was the inevitable point of comparison for critics of the late 1960s.
Diabolik (John Philip Law) is a master criminal, garbed in a tight black leather suit most of the time, who performs daring robberies and rubs his successes in the face of the police. He has two principal adversaries, Inspector Ginko (popular French star Michel Piccoli) and mob boss Valmont (Adolfo Celi, though his dubbing sounds like 100% Paul Frees). Diabolik isn't exactly a Robin Hood figure, stealing from the rich not to give to the poor but to impress his girlfriend, Eva Kent (Marisa Mell). The film follows Diabolik on several capers, including an effort by Valmont to extort his lootings by kidnaping Eva.
Law immediately went on to another comic-book film, Barbarella, but he was seldom as impressive as he is here. His portrayal of Diabolik is incredible, with a sense of being constantly in motion; when his body isn't moving, his eyes are. Physically he captures the catlike look of the fumetti character quite nicely, and he has a chilling evil cackle that is highly effective. Mell is convincing as the slightly spoiled object of his affections; though mostly called upon to look sexy, she does that exceedingly well. The two of them have a striking chemistry, which is hardly surprising since Law mentions in the commentary that they were in the midst of a torrid romance in real life. Piccoli does a great slow burn in support, and Terry-Thomas (as first the Minister of the Interior and then Minister of Finance) is a reliable entertainer who turns in a small but hugely entertaning performance. Director Bava can't resist a little political satire through Terry-Thomas' character, suggesting that no matter how incompetent one might be, to the point of being forced to resign, party politics will always find another position for such a person to screw up again.
Although one could consider Diabolik to be a terrorist, the master criminal comes from a long cinematic tradition, including Fantomas. Judex and The Phantom of the Opera. Elements of all these predecessors can be found here, including the use of outlandish gadgets, twisted schemes, and an elaborately booby-trapped underground lair. But Bava's visual sense takes everything to a bigger and wilder level, as he uses striking mattes to portray Diabolik's hideout in a highly convincing manner. In comparison, some of the effects shots (especially in-car process shots and bluescreen) look rather crude. But these seem to be merely misdirection, since the casual viewer will never guess that many of the other scenes are really accomplished through clever effects shots. Striking visuals aren't just in the form of effects, however. Most memorable is the iconic segment early on as Diabolik and Eva frolic in a round, rotating bed, surrounded by heaps of 10- and 50-dollar bills. This combination of sex, money and power is intoxicating and irresistibly pulls the viewer into sympathy with the lawless pair.
Bava lends all sorts of other visual touches to the picture, including a frenzied zoom in and reverse zoom out that emphasizes the movement and comic book origins of the material. Creative framing and studied yet ferocious use of the camera gives the picture a life that would never have been present in lesser hands. Danger: Diabolik has proven to be a much more persistent cultural touchstone than the critics ever dreamed (and possibly moreso than its creators did too). Its resonances can be heard in later James Bond films, any number of other films desiring to take on a psychedelic or mod appearance, the recent CQ by Roman Coppola and even the Austin Powers films. Its staying power is undeniable, and it's great to have it, in uncut form (17 minutes was trimmed from the original US release). Now, let's talk about Paramount's rights to Four Flies on Grey Velvet....
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.78:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture looks beautiful. Color was always highly important to Bava, and his use of color here is striking and eye-popping, with all of it coming across in gorgeous manner in the transition to DVD. Black levels are excellent, as are details and textures. The only issues are speckling on stock footage and some printed-in dirt on opticals, both of which are traceable to the original films. No significant damage is otherwise present. It may be very slightly cropped to 16:9 ratio, but the compositions survive quite nicely.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: The disc sports a Dolby Surround track of the English dub, though it feels like little more than mono. There's hardly any surround activity, and directionality is quite limited. Ennio Morricone contributes a witty score, one of his best, and it sounds fine, without shrillness or tinniness. Range is quite excellent and hiss and noise are hardly present at all. Paramount uses the original (and superior) theatrical dub of the film, rather than the revised and somewhat campier home video dub that was present on earlier video releases, which is a huge plus. Law, Mell, and Terry-Thomas are all dubbing themselves (and speaking in English) so the omission of an Italian track is not a serious demerit.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Feature/Episode commentary by John Philip Law, Bava biographer Tim Lucas
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Layers Switch: 00h:40m:39s
- Music video, with optional commentary
First is a commentary with star John Philip Law and Mario Bava biographer and editor of Video Watchdog, Tim Lucas. They make a great tag-team, with Law recalling anecdotes of the filming and Lucas filling in technical and historical data. On a couple occasions Lucas lapses into narrating, then quickly catches himself and moves on to something meatier. It's a fine commentary that adds quite a lot. Also in support is an excellent 20m:21s documentary hosted by cartoonist Steve Bissette that takes a look at the transition that the film made from the fumetti, and points out several of Bava's visual flourishes, such as regularly using props to break the scene up into panels and insets as if it were on the printed page. If you don't understand what Bava was doing with the camera, this documentary will go a long ways towards making sense of it for you. Bissette also highlights specific comic frames that Bava brings to life, comparing them to the film frames. The commentary and documentary are very complementary, and hardly duplicate a single element.
The Beastie Boys borrowed liberally from Danger: Diabolik for their video for Body Movin' (1998), and that amusing video, with its clips and pastiches, is presented here, with an optional commentary by Adam Yauch. Finally, there are the short teaser trailer and the longer theatrical trailer, both of which manage to give away the ending! The layer change is cleverly placed on just about the only completely static shot in the film, making it nearly invisible. On the whole, this is one of the finer single-disc special editions on the market in terms of quality. The only thing that seems to be missing is a complete sample of the Diabolik fumetti.
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsThis stylish fumetti adaptation makes a first-class transition to DVD, with a beautiful transfer and loaded with sensational extras. Highly recommended.
Mark Zimmer 2005-06-13