There is no better time capsule for the outlandish, post-Bond action cinema of the ’60s than the camp comic book romp “Danger: Diabolik.”
This Franco-Italian heist thriller was “Matt Helm” meets “Batman,” all lavish modernist sets and near-nudity, fake blood, fake voices (it’s almost all looped, even when we’re hearing the actual actors) and um, good clean fun.
Want to know where “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” came from? It’s a little Bond, a smidgen of TV’s “The Avengers,” and a LOT of “Diabolik.”
John Phillip Law (“Barbarella,” “The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming”), Hollywood’s hot new “himbo,” has the largely silent title role, a master criminal and supervillain with the unlimited resources it takes to rob huge currency shipments, priceless jewels and for the grand finale, the largest gold ingot ever, melted into the shape of a coffin.
He has an underground villain’s lair on the coast, naturally — so that he can dock his cool super-secret submarine. The villa comes complete with shag carpeting, modular/circular sofas, his and hers mod showers and gadgets galore. The man burns through E-Type Jaguars as if they were Turkish cigarettes.
Eva (Austrian bombshell Marisa Mell) is at his side in every caper, always there in disguise with a backup Jaguar, always in his bed at the end of the day.
They are hunted relentlessly by Inspector Ginko (Frenchman Michel Piccoli of “Belle du Jour”), and griped about by a government minister (British comic Terry-Thomas) who does all those things Terry-Thomas does. Well, he doesn’t say “Drat and blast!” this time, a stumble on the part of the (many) screenwriters.
“Diabolik… I assure you that this individual, whose very name reveals his antagonism to the established values of our society, will soon be brought… to justice!”
Bond villain Adolfo Celi (sans eye-patch) plays Valmont, a villain out to do away with Diabolik as well.
Diabolik has no “code,” has no “honor” and isn’t shy about killing cops or a planeload of fellow villains who get in his way.
The script has no zingy one-liners, the effects range from “Wait, that submersible is real and way cooler than any Bond sub” (of the ’60s) to cheapness itself.
It’s not as sexy as “Barbarella,” not as funny as Woody Allen’s dubbed goof “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” Dubbed into in whatever language (Italian, English) you find this pan Euro production in, it’s never-quite hilarious.
“Diabolik” is a cult film — a miscalculated bomb, amusingly awful — that’s almost in a category of “cult” all its own. It played midnight shows, often in rep with John Phillip Law’s other “cult” classic, “Barbarella,” earned the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” treatment, and is almost forgotten now.
Considering where cult cinema has gone — gruesomely violent, profane, “Showgirls” explicit or “Big Lebowski” (not that bad) — it’s positively quaint.
Best served as an appetizer to an “Austin Powers” marathon, if “Casino Royale” (the “original” one, with Peter Sellers) isn’t available.
MPAA Rating: unrated, lots of violence, some nudity
Cast: John Phillip Law, Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli, Adolfo Celi, Terry-Thomas
Credits: Directed by Mario Bava, script by Dino Maiuri, Brian Degas , Tudor Gates and Mario Bava and based on the comic book.
Running time: 1:45