Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Danger: Diabolik (Mario Bava, 1968)

A few months ago, I was flipping through channels waiting for some show to come on, and IFC was airing a documentary about the works of Mario Bava. I tuned in for a couple minutes, and they started showing clips of one of his films that I'd never heard of, some sort of ultra-mod superhero flick called Danger: Diabolik. My first thought was, "how have I survived this long without seeing this film?"

Danger: Diabolik would be a great movie whenever I had seen it. If I saw it when I was 10, I would think it was an awesome action movie. At 18, I would have loved it as a "so bad it's good" piece of camp entertainment. Now, at 38(!), I find that I love it for being exactly what it is. Diabolik is not a superhero, he's a super thief who, with his girlfriend, Eva Kant. They continualy outfox the uptight authorities in a futuristic, psychedelic world similar to that of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls or Barbarella. Bava has an incredible eye, linking series of exquisitely-framed shots together to produce a kinetic action feel. Dialogue is minimal, and there are long stretches where you'd swear you were watching a silent movie, where the story is conveyed entirely through action and images. The lusty way he photographs Marisa Mell in her wardrobe of sexy, mod outfits is sometimes reminiscent of Russ Meyer.

One of the most interesting things about the film is the relationship between Diabolik and Eva. They are an anomoly in film, or at least in Hollywood: a monogamous couple in an action movie. They don't start out strangers or old acquaintences and fall in love, nor do they face a crisis in their relationship that must be resolved by the movie's end. They are in a steady, mutually passionate relationship from the start. This is in sharp contrast to, for instance, James Bond, especially considering the outlaw aspect of the characters. Despite being a criminal, Diabolik is apparantly a devoted, monogamous lover. We see no evidence of infidelity. When he steals priceless diamonds, it is to give them to her. It's tempting to say that she exists to give him an excuse to steal, but they are as passionate as any monogamous couple outside of The Addams Family. In the scene in which Eva is introduced, as the two switch cars in a tunnel, on the run from the law, he can't help giving her a quick up-and-down inspection, and stealing a kiss through his mask. Later, when they have time for a full-on makeout session, there's real passion between them, and John Phillip Law takes delight in caressing Marisa Mell's arms and burying his tongue in her mouth (what an actor!). And while Diabolik is obviously the mastermind here, he treats Eva as an equal, a partner in crime. There's no question that she is devoted to him, yet he never tires of wooing her. In contrast, we see the gangster Valmont dominating his women through fear (a scene of Valmont telling his woman when to answer the telephone brings to mind Ordell and Melanie's scenes in Jackie Brown), and the sadistic thug who captures Eva torturing his bound captive with a cigarette. Diabolik does not control or dominate his woman through power or violence. He is no pimp. He treats her with respect, and gains an accomplice he can trust with his life. I suppose the fact that the comic was created by two women should be of little surprise.

Watching the film, I thought "this would make a great double-feature with Barbarella." When I logged on to the American Cinematheque website the next day, the schedule was up for their annual Mods and Rockers festival, and lo and behold, they're running a double feature of Danger: Diabolik and Barbarella! Also, Goldfinger, with this intriguing-sounding film, starring Shirley Eaton (the girl who gets covered in Gold in Goldfinger):

THE MILLION EYES OF SUMURU, 1967, MGM/UA, 95 min. Dir. Lindsay Shonteff. In answer to the ultimate trivia question – What movie stars both Frankie Avalon and Klaus Kinski? – it’s THE MILLION EYES OF SUMURU!! Golden girl Shirley Eaton plays the diabolical leader of a worldwide Amazon sect intent on ending the world’s male domination. Loosely based on Fu Manchu-creator Sax Rohmer’s Sumuru character, this is an amusing example of 1960’s pulpy pop culture at its most bizarre. Beehive hairdos, beautiful wicked women in skintight costumes, clueless secret agents and exotic locales (it was filmed largely at the Shaw Bros. Hong Kong studio) punctuate this campy, Saturday matinee-style thriller.

There's also a double feature of The Loved One and Lord Love a Duck (two excellent dark comedies), and Angel, Angel Down We Go paired with another very interesting-sounding flick:

MARYJANE, 1968, MGM/UA, 104 min. Director Maury Dexter (THE MINI-SKIRT MOB) takes on the pot problem with Fabian (can you dig it??) as a hip high school teacher trying to investigate campus marijuana use. Caught between uptight faculty and distrustful kids, he’s framed for possession and is soon jumping through hoops to not only clear his name but also help troubled youth Jerry (Michael Margotta) before the ruthless teen drug dealers can get the upper hand. Although a little dated, a surprisingly credible B picture looking at the mushrooming use of grass in 1960’s Southern California high schools. With Diane McBain, Kevin Coughlin and a teenage Patty McCormack (THE BAD SEED). [Please note that this, the only surviving print of MARYJANE, is faded.]


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