Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)‘With this suit, I could swim through the centre of the sun.’

A notorious criminal mastermind steals 10 million dollars from under the noses of the police. The authorities escalate their campaign to apprehend him, forcing an underworld kingpin and his mob into taking action against the thief. Can the villain stay one step ahead of both the combined might of the forces of law and order and the criminal underworld?

Stylish and extravagant big-screen adaptation of the popular Italian comic book series from director Mario Bava. Unlike the maestro’s previous offerings, this was a big studio production with backing from well-known producer Dino De Laurentiis, big-name stars and shot on various locations, but mostly at his studio in Rome.

The film opens with the latest diversionary tactic employed by Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli) to snare super heist merchant, Diabolik (John Phillip Law) and his lover and partner in crime Eva Kant (Marisa Mell). Instead of ten million dollars in banknotes, the cargo protected by a convey of motorcycle policemen is just blank paper. The real deal is going with him in an unmarked car with a much smaller escort. Law isn’t fooled, of course, and uses a smoke machine on a road bridge and a dockside crane to grab the swag. Piccoli is called in to face Minister of Finance Terry-Thomas but, after a humiliating press conference which Law and Mell disrupt with laughing gas, Piccoli gets special powers to end the Diabolik menace.
Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)


Squeezing local mobster, Ralph Valmont (Adolfo Celi) by raiding on his clubs and businesses, the detective strikes a deal with the crimelord: hand over Diabolik and the pressure will be off. Meanwhile, Law pulls off another daring heist; snatching an emerald necklace and escaping via a rise with a catapult. But Celi kidnaps Mell and offers Law an ultimatum: the ten million dollars and the emerald necklace in exchange for her safe return. Law accepts the deal, but still has a few tricks up his sleeve when they meet for a showdown.

Diabolik was a character created by sisters Angela and Luciana Giussani whose instant popularity created a whole new sub-genre of Italian comics known as the ‘Fumetti neri’ (‘black comics’). In his original incarnation, Diabolik was a ruthless criminal genius, who let nothing stand in his way but, over time, and after legal actions by an outraged ‘moral majority’, the character softened into more of a hi-tech ‘Robin Hood’. Fumetti neri in general split into two distinct camps, those targeted more at a juvenile audience and those ‘prohibited to minors’ which emphasised more adult themes, including far higher levels of sex and violence.

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)


A project to adapt the character to film had begun several years earlier with Jean Sorel in the title role and Elsa Martinelli and his lover and partner in crime, Eva Kant. However, the project collapsed quickly, and it’s unclear if anything more was shot than publicity stills. De Laurentiis acquired the rights and brought Bava on board, intending the film would accompany his production of Roger Vadim’ ‘Barbarella’ (1968) into theatres. Law was under contract to appear in that film, but delays caused by working with the SFX allowed him to take on the role of Diabolik first.

Bava was happy with his casting but less so with Catherine Deneuve who De Laurentiis selected for the role of Eva. As it was, she only lasted a week into filming before Austrian actress Marisa Mell replaced her. By all accounts, this was because Deneuve refused to disrobe for the film’s most iconic scene, where Diabolik and Eva make love naked on a revolving bed covered in money. However, given her subsequent filmography and the fact that the final scene is not explicit, it may be that Bava was able to use the situation as a way to get her released.

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)

 


The finished film is a kaleidoscope of 1960s pop culture, with bright, eye-popping colours and a wonderful mixture of striking production design and Bava’s genius for optical effects. Rather than presenting the action in a static way to reflect its comic strip origins, Bava keeps his camera moving, deliver a fast-paced narrative decorated with stylistic flourishes which give the film a feel of hyper-reality. Bava achieved the apparent scale and complexity of Diabolik’s underground headquarters by combining the actors with Bava’s matte paintings. Other visuals were created by cutting pictures of buildings, aircraft and other items from magazines, posting them on to a sheet of strategically placed glass and then shooting the action through it. Although it sounds like a terrible idea, Bava makes it work.

There are some other noteworthy touches too. Bava uses animation to draw lines on a map, and for a photo-fit device used by the police to try and identify Eva. He also employs his usual trick of foregrounding objects to give depth to scenes, sometimes shooting through some that break the image into squares approximating the comic book panels, such as empty bookshelves and a bedstead.
Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)


There’s a flamboyance and a real sense of freedom to the picture, fueled by a playful, liberated sexuality, displayed not by promiscuity, but the unfettered passion between Diabolik and Eva. It helps that Law and Mell have such sizzling chemistry and give note-perfect performances, sensibly resisting the temptation to play to the gallery. Celi is his usual, reliable self as boss of the criminal underworld and Piccoli underplays beautifully as our larcenous duo’s official nemesis. Thomas also provides a beautiful cameo as the government minister, begging the populace to pay their taxes voluntarily after Law and Mell blow up the tax office and destroy all the official records!

The cool 1960s vibe also gets a major assist from composer Ennio Morricone, who delivers a jazzy, uptempo score that’s an integral part of the film’s ambience. Sadly, the original tapes are no longer available, having been destroyed in a fire, and the only way to enjoy his work is to watch the film, although a re-recording from 2014 is available. Also on hand to deliver his expertise is artist Carlo Rambaldi who designed Diabolik’s iconic mask before going on to significant work in Hollywood, rewarded eventually with 3 Oscars, including one for ‘E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial’ (1982).

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)

 

The character of Diabolik has his roots in older fictional masterminds, such as Germany’s ‘Dr Mabuse’ and the French ‘Fantomas’. Like those characters, in the source material, he plays with notions of identity, using lifelike masks to take on the appearance of anyone he chooses. This idea was dropped from the film, leaving him more in common with later villains such as ‘Kriminal’. He was developed as a direct rival to Diabolik but arrived on the big screen first in the form of Glenn Saxson. In a sly tip of the hat, the bank manager who hands the ten million dollars over to Piccioli at the start of this film is played by Andrea Bosic, who served as Saxson’s official opponent in those earlier ‘Kriminal’ pictures.

There are some flaws in Bava’s film, though. The process shots and rear-projection are so hideous and poorly done that it’s tempting to believe that it was a deliberate choice, made by the director to contribute to the comic-book aesthetic. If so, then it’s one of the few visual missteps in his career. The script, credited to several writers, including Bava, is a little scrambled and untidy, but that may have been intentional too, as it does lift some sequences directly from the source material and contributes to the freewheeling atmosphere.

Diabolik/Danger: Diabolik (1968)

 

Diabolik’s return to the big screen any time soon seems an unlikely proposition, even though the global audience today shares some of the feelings of the public who first elevated the character to its iconic status in Italy after the Second World War. Specifically, a distrust of authority figures who increasingly excuse graft and political corruption by using the loopholes in a legal system designed solely for their benefit. This growing cynicism would embrace a subversive character such as this, but any new iteration would need to walk a very fine line. After all, a lot of his actions would be interpreted by most as aspects of domestic terrorism, even though he has no political agenda or desire to enforce change on the system.

Bava’s cut-price optical effects helped bring the film in for a cost of approximately $400,000 when it had originally been allocated a budget of $3 million. De Laurentiis offered him the chance to direct a sequel with the unused money, but Bava turned it down, unhappy with what he felt was interference from the studio during the filmmaking process. Perhaps the money would have been better used smoothing off some of the rougher edges of this film anyway.

A thoroughly enjoyable Sixties romp, tinged with psychedelia and filtered through the genius of Mario Bava.

Space Mutiny (1988)

Space Mutiny (1988)‘Surrender, or be blown to astro-dust!’

The ‘Southern Star’ is carrying the last remnants of humanity across the galaxy, looking for a new Earth. Along the way they are menaced by space pirates, but the biggest danger is much closer to home.  As part of a plot to drive them towards a planet of his own choosing, their renegade security officer begins orchestrating acts of deadly sabotage.

Oh dear. Once in a while you come across something so remorselessly bad is just impossible to say a positive word about it. This is such a film. Yes, the SFX, miniature craft and the space battles aren’t bad. That’s true. But as they’re lifted wholesale from ‘Battlestar Galactica’ (1978), I’m afraid they don’t really count!  Cylons become space pirates, beefcake star Reb Brown sits in a mismatched ‘Viper’ cockpit and some of the footage runs backwards. It’s seamless.

Moving inside the ‘Galactica’ (sorry the ‘Southern Star’), we come across the next big problem: the set design. Have you ever heard of brick walls inside a spaceship? Well, this baby’s got ‘em!  Above decks may be all blank plastic walls and early 1980s home computer graphics, but where the ‘real work’ gets done? Well, that resembles an old, deserted factory. With a couple of motorised golf carts and daylight coming in through the windows. Apparently, cinematographer Vincent G Cox was aware of the last problem and used filters to give the light an orange glow. Fine. Good man. Unfortunately, no one informed the processing lab and they colour-corrected the orange glow back into daylight!  Oops.

Space Mutiny (1988)

The Engineering Deck of the ‘Southern Star’.

Then there’s the star-studded cast. Commander Adama is played by Cameron Mitchell in a silly, stick-on Father Christmas beard. He’d been a regular on late 1960s TV hit ‘The High Chaparral’ but his movie career had taken in such epic millstones as ‘Supersonic Man’ (1978) and Jerry Warren’s hilarious ‘Frankenstein Island’ (1981). Beefcake hero Reb Brown was both the late 1970s TV movie ‘Captain America’ and ‘Yor, Hunter from the Future’ (1983) (‘Yor!!! He’s the man!’)

Brown’s real-life wife Cisse Cameron is our heroine. Her other movie credits are pretty limited. But, best of all, opposing them is bad guy John Phillip Law, briefly a star in Europe in the 1960s (‘Barbarella’ (1967) and ‘Diabolik’ (1968)) whose stateside career never really took off. He doesn’t so much chew the scenery here as projectile vomit pieces of it toward the camera. ‘Take that, you space bitch!’ he screams whilst simultaneously having some kind of a medical episode.

Next up is the script. It’s not very good. Actually, it’s often stupid and rather painful. Character motivations are illogical and actions simply make no sense. After appointing Beefcake as their new champion, the bridge crew throw a drinks party, seemingly forgetting their imminent peril. A group of mysterious telepathic women in leotards come on board and spent all their time dancing in slow motion and indulging in allegedly significant (but completely meaningless) voiceovers. What have they got to do with anything? Search me. All the dialogue is terribly bland or desperately contrived.

So what happens? Well, our heroine’s a feisty one (apparently) and blames Beefcake for the death of her (unseen) friend when he piles his Viper up in the Galactica’s landing bay. The two hate each other on sight (yawn!) but, in no time at all, they’re snuggled up on the deck in the hydroponic garden. ‘Can a woman buy a man a drink in your galaxy?’ she simpers, delivering the best chat-up line ever. Mind you, seconds before that she’d been doing fairly obscene things with a hula-hoop on the dance floor, so he’d probably got the idea already. (Nice to see hula hoops making a comeback in the distant future). Meanwhile, Law and his lieutenants are blowing things up and silencing undesirables (‘This is mutiny, this is treason, which I warn you I must report!’) They also have a troop of goons who run around a lot and wear balaclava helmets. Well, it can get pretty cold in a spaceship sometimes. Especially when it looks like a deserted factory.

Space Mutiny (1988)

He’s the Man !!!!!

Our golden couple clue into the conspiracy, of course, and have to be silenced. There is a lot more running about with colourful ray gun fire and goons taking headers from gantries every few seconds. Strangely they always do this in pairs wearing those balaclava helmets so we can’t see their faces. Why? Well, there are only two stuntmen named in the credits. You figure it out.

Anyway, Cameron gets captured and Law makes a kind offer to sort out her orthodontic requirements (‘It’s not unlike dental equipment on Earth; not that you’d know anything about that!), but she escapes by convincing her guard to strip to his underpants. It’s probably the least persuasive seduction scene ever put on film. The cracking climax features a nail-biting chase on the motorised golf carts (‘You meddling fool’ / ‘Son of a bitch!’) and the credits roll accompanied by an excellent slab of 1980s synthesised cock rock: “My moment is here, my moment is now… Here I stand! On the Edge of a Dream! The future before me and time in between…” Wow. It’s a real ‘punch the air’ moment!  I know I did.

To be fair, original director Dave Winters had to bail early due to family problems and replacement Neal Sundstrom was really ‘sold a kipper’ when he picked up the ball. Both of them tried to get their names taken off the finished film, although Winters was not successful.

But not everyone showed such a deplorable lack of enthusiasm for the project. Lt Lemont (biggest hair on board) is killed fairly early on when she uncovers the despicable machinations of Law and his woolly helmeted friends. Even so, she still turns up at her station on the bridge later on in the film. Twice. Now, there’s dedication for you!

Altogether now… “Maybe I’ll fall and maybe I’ll fly… Here I stand!  On the Edge of a Dream!”

Skidoo (1968)

Skidoo (1968)Because a lotta people think they’ve gotta draw the line / They separate the good the bad the wrong from right / But forget about the color that’s between the black and white / And all the groovy little in betweens.

Skidoo Skidoo / Skidoo doobly do / I really believe it is the thing to do.’

An ageing mobster comes out of retirement for one last job; killing his best friend in prison. Meanwhile his daughter gets involved with a group of hippies and his wife invites them all to come round and stay so they aren’t thrown out of town by The Man.

There a few sights sadder or more tragic than watching middle aged people trying to get ‘with it’ and ‘down with the kids’. And when the people in question are Hollywood types letting it all hang out on film? Well, the inevitable result is something like ‘Skidoo’ (1968); a stupid, formless, desperately unfunny ‘comedy’ that lurches across the screen like a 3 legged rhinoceros attempting the Paso Doble.

Veteran director Otto Preminger (‘Laura’ (1944), ‘The Man With The Golden Arm’ (1955), ‘Exodus’ (1960)) had already dipped his toe into the late 1960s counter culture by appearing as Mr. Freeze on the ‘Batman’ TV show. He even managed to get fellow ‘Bat-villains’ to waste their time on this: Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin and Burgess Meredith all make brief appearances, and probably wished they hadn’t. Songs and music are supplied by Harry Nillson, who even sings all the end credits, down to the copyright notice! He also appears as a prison guard. Asked if he was high during the making of the film, he replied that he wasn’t – just drunk instead.

Our ‘story’ centres on retired hit man Jackie Gleason, who is ordered out of retirement for one last job by mob kingpin God (Groucho Marx!) This involves rubbing out a jailbird (Mickey Rooney!) who is going to turn state’s evidence. Gleason has to ‘break in’ to prison, where he unwittingly drops acid and sees the error of his ways. Outside of stir, his wife (a dreadful Carol Channing) takes her clothes off for a wannabe mobster (50s singing heartthrob Frankie Avalon!) and their daughter gets involved with a bunch of hippies. These flower children are led by John Phillip Law, who was a star in Europe after appearing as Jane Fonda’s love interest in ‘Barbarella’ (1967) and taking the lead in ‘Diabolik’ (1968). God’s private yacht is skippered by 30s gangster star George Raft and we also get turns from Peter Lawford, Slim Pickens and Richard ‘Jaws’ Kiel.

Skidoo (1968)

Err….. ye-ssss…

According to Adam West’s autobiography, Preminger was difficult to work with on ‘Batman’ and apparently clashed with his cast here, bullying Groucho to wear his trademark greasepaint moustache. He also had words with Gleason, who wasn’t putting up with any of his nonsense.

The script was in constant flux with new writers being brought in during filming but Preminger refused to consider most of their suggestions and a lot of film was in the can already. The picture lurches from one inept setup to the next; including an acid trip prison break featuring dancing garbage cans! The brilliant finale features Channing leading the hippies on to the yacht whilst singing the wonderful theme song: ‘Skiddo! Skidoo! Between the one and three, there is a two!’ Raft performs a hippie wedding and Groucho sails off into the sunset whilst smoking a joint. Epic.

Is ‘Skidoo’ (1968) so bad it’s good? No. Is ‘Skidoo’ (1968) available to buy on DVD? Yes. Good luck with that.

‘Skidoo’ (1968) was a production of Paramount Pictures.

‘And watch the scenery / As the color slowly changes from fourteen to twenty three / Skidoo, Skidoo…’