The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Danger: Diabolik

Unlike any other decade, the 1960s had a style that was indescribable in its cool factor. There was an ease to the style; the clothes, the music, even the self confidence that what was going on was From the Rat Pack to James Bond and everything in between, the 1960s were full of stylish films. One of the most suave, cool, stylish and truly bizarre entries was 1968's Danger: Diabolik.

A veteran police investigator, Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli) is at wit's end. He has long tried to catch, arrest and prosecute Diabolik (John Phillip Law), an international thief who can and will steal anything and everything. The more improbable the heist, the more closely guarded the target, Diabolik will get what he wants. After years of successful jobs, the thief has created quite a reputation for himself, drawing the ire of both police forces and organized crime, including mob boss, Valmont (Adolfo Celi), who wants nothing more than to have him killed. The ploy? Ginko, the police, Valmont and the mob will set a trap for Diabolik, an emerald necklace that is worth millions. Can Diabolik pull it off and make it out alive?

As I write this review, it's been three full days since I watched 'Danger,' and I can safely say I have no bleeping idea how to interpret this movie. None, not even a little. Is it a spoof? Is it for real? Is it both and neither where I'm completely missing something? I need answers!!!! From Italian director Mario Bava, this is a movie that basically defines what a 'cult classic' is. Those who love it will defend it to the death. And the rest? Like me, they're trying to figure out exactly what they're watching. What I do know about this movie is this; it is so ultra-stylish, stylized within an inch of its life, dripping and oozing with style. Get what I mean? It is a prime example of an oddball retro 1960s style. If that's a good or bad thing, I'll have to leave that up to you.

Not surprisingly, that style produces an incredible visual look to the story, sometimes at the cost of said story. It is a retro style on steroids, full of crazy zooms and close-ups, very 60s clothing and sets/locales, and a score from Ennio Morricone that defies description. Give the main theme a listen HERE. It should be pointed out that the character/story is based on an Italian comic book series which had to be tamed down -- apparently a lot -- for a film version. That steroid-induced style now blends Euro-Italian trends, a comic book background, and a futuristic look/feel that is unreal and difficult to describe. Like so much about this movie, it comes with the good and bad. There are moments where the style is impeccable, like the silent exploration of Diabolik's underwater lair, expansive and seemingly never-ending in its future decor. There are others that are not so lucky, the style coming at the expense of an already disjointed feel.

Who better to play ultra-cool anti-hero and all around cool dude Diabolik than....John Phillip Law????? Yeah, not my first thought either. God bless him, he could be good in certain roles (Death Rides a Horse, Attack Force Z), but he was as wooden as a board as an actor. His line deliveries are so laughably stiff that it's hard to take anything he says serious even in the least. Part of the effectiveness of the character is that inherent cool factor from his futuristic hideout, his cars, his babely girlfriend, Eva (Marisa Mell), and his basic and general disdain for anything to do with authority. All those things are fine and dandy, but Phillip Law brings basically nothing else to the character. I'm also fairly convinced he was cast in the role because of his ability to stare in a truly unsettling fashion, especially in his leather-clad outfit that conceals everything but his eyes. Check out that stare HERE, but beware! It is truly creepy.

There are really only three other parts of consequence, one more stock character on top of another. The best of the three -- acting-wise at least -- is Piccoli as Inspector Ginko. The worn-down veteran cop trying to bring down his adversary is a well-worn character, but a good one nonetheless. It's easy to see his ever-growing frustration at his ability to catch Diabolik. Playing Diabolik's girlfriend, Eva, Mell is there for one reason and one reason only; eye candy. She appears nude (but always strategically covered up) and in various degrees of undress. Not quite ahead of its time, it is just the same pretty scandalous in its depiction of on-screen quasi-nudity. Celi hams it up as expected as Valmont, but doesn't leave much of an impression. Also look for a shrill, out of place Terry Thomas as the country's (Italy) minister of finance.

So in the end, my biggest frustration comes from a complete refusal to be pegged down as one type of film. That in itself isn't a deal breaker, but is it a spoof, a hardcore violent picture, a comedy, a mix of it all? I have no idea at all what to make of it. Decide for yourself. You can watch it at Youtube starting HERE.

Danger: Diabolik (1968): **/****   


  1. This movie's fans will defend it to the death. Yet I think it fully deserved its spot on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

  2. Yeah, I get the complete cheeseball charm, the ridiculous campy tone, and I can understand why those fans are so defensive about their movie. Maybe on a repeat viewing I'd like it more, but there was just something missing.