Danger Diabolik (1968)

John Phillip Law and Adolfo Celi star in Mario Bava's exciting comic-book movie with an Ennio Morricone score. Paramount USA R1 DVD.

The Film

When the government tries to ship $10 million, they set-up an elaborate decoy - but can't stop Diabolik (John Phillip Law) from stealing the money, and then escaping from two police helicopters in his black Jaguar. Returning to his secret cave hideaway Diabolik, and his woman Eva, discover the joy of money loving... Meanwhile the Interior Minister (Terry-Thomas) is irately disciplining his staff. After applying for special powers, the Government men start to crack down on organised crime, which begins to annoy the various mob groups led by Valmont (Adolfo Celi) and they set out to capture Diabolik themselves. When a British minister and his wife arrive in the country with an incredibly valuable emerald necklace, both Valmont and the police set traps for Diabolik, but he still tries to make a grab for it... anything for Eva.

Based on a very popular Italian comic book, Diabolik is an accurate translation and considered for a long time to be the best 'film to comic book' adaptation. In contrast to most Anglo-American comic books, Diabolik is a villian rather than a hero, and in a twisted Robin Hood varience he takes it upon himself to steal from the the government and kill its agents, while keeping the money for himself, with no moral qualms - although he is completely loyal to a single woman (compare this to Casanovan James Bond). The near-anarchist era of Central-European culture is reflected in his war against the government, although we never really find out what the public perception of Diabolik is. The film works pretty well - the story is essentially in four parts with links between them, just like a series of comic books. Pacing is pretty strong, although it does start to drag towards the end of the final quarter and a trim of 10 minutes might have aided the film's flow.

As with most of his productions, Mario Bava's direction really lifts this film - from a standard comic-book style story to a true visual comic.
Bava's trademark colour scheme is always apparent, from the multi-coloured fog he used at the start, through to the colour saturated climax, his srong camerawork really lifts the film. At strong use of visual effects, including matt paintings and model work, creates the appearance of a massively budgeted movie and allows Bava to go completely over-the-top with set design. Ennio Morricone really gets in on the game with an excellent soundtrack that pushes the film into the realms of near-perfection. Sadly, the film is not perfect with some very obvious rear-projection shots, day-for-night photography and some jarring errors in the mixing of second-unit work. However, this does not ultimately distract too much.

John Phillip Law plays the lead role - relatively little known now, this film was a major career boost and he went on to shoot similarly trippy Barbarella (1968) for which he is probably best known. Law's acting here is rather limited, although he excels in the action scenes and in the suit - and has an uncanny resemblance to the original comic book character. British comic actor Terry-Thomas plays the Minister of the Interior and later the Minister of Finance and gives a very distinctive performance, aided by his own dubbing. Adolfo Celi plays his typical Mafia Boss role to perfection, with some nice over-the-top evil flourishes for that comic book feel. The rest of the cast look fine.

One of the best comic book adaptations until Sin City (2004), Diabolik is a well written film boosted by strong direction and a wonderful soundtrack that really gives a comic book feel to the whole production. An entertaining 90 minutes, but don't expect anything too clever. Recommended.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? John Phillip Law - An occasional Euro-cult star who appeared in dark SW Death Rides a Horse (1968).
Adolfo Celi - An Italian actor, most famous for Thunderball (1965) who made a career playing mafia dons.
Directed by anyone interesting? Mario Bava - Often considered to be one of the best European cinema directors he directed a wide range of films, but was most at home in the horror genre.
Any violence/gore? Some fights, gun shots and knifings - a little blood.
Any sex? Several covered-up nude scenes, nothing revealing.
Who is it for?
Of general interest. Recommended.
Good Soundtrack?A strong Ennio Morricone score that really suits the film.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print is generally strong, with good detail. Some scenes have notable scratches, and there is some speckling. Importantly, the colours are very strong.
Audio English original mono - sounds fine.
Subtitles English
Run-timeFeature: 1hr 40m 12s (PAL)
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio Commentary by Tim Lucas and John Phillip Law - starts slow, but imparts loads of interesting facts and stories.
  • Interview documentary with J.P.Law, Morricone, De Laurentis and an American cartoonist. Interesting. (20m 22s)
  • Beastie Boys Body Movin' music video that spoofs Diabolik. Plus alternate audio commentary version with singer Adam Yauch. (6m 25s)
  • American Trailers - teaser and theatrical (1m 05s + 2m 22s)
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? None known.
Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut. The print used is English language.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 8th August 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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