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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

Danger Diabolik

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More pulp madness as Mario Bava’s 1968 crime caper finally appears on DVD in the UK this week, a camp confection from an already very camp decade, although it pales beside the lurid excesses of Barbarella which was released in the same year. Both films were based on popular European comic strips, and both are connected by the presence of John Phillip Law, the sexiest (male) screen angel in Barbarella and the star of Danger Diabolik. Barbarella’s adventures on page and screen managed to be equally frivolous whereas master thief Diabolik in the original fumetti (which is still running) was rather more serious, at least in serial adventure terms. Bava forgoes any attempt to treat his subject with a straight face, opting instead for the knowing action comedy style that was popular during the Sixties, whether in post-Bond fare such as Our Man Flint or superior TV series like The Avengers.

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Diabolik stands apart from his contemporaries, and from other campy comic spin-offs such as the Sixties Batman, by being an anti-hero in a field over-stuffed with costumed vigilantes and misogynist super-spies. Most characters of this type are descendants of deathless arch-criminal Fantômas, and Diabolik can perhaps be seen as a trendy updating of the Fantômas type, with his black leather bondage outfit and ultra-cool E-type Jaguar, probably the only car ever made in Britain that would impress style-conscious Italians. The comic strip was created in 1962 by two sisters, Angela and Luciana Giussani, a feat one imagines would be impossible in the male-dominated world of American comics at that time.

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The fumetti Diabolik shuns firearms in favour of knife-throwing expertise, something that Bava ignores by giving him a boring machine gun. Bava directed a very silly James Bond spoof, Doctor Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, two years earlier, and always had a great eye for aesthetics even when lacking an adequate budget. His horror films frequently outdid Hammer for Gothic atmosphere and his strange science fiction/horror, Planet of the Vampires (1965), features a cast similarly sheathed in shiny black spacesuits. The clouds of coloured fog those astronauts encounter reappear as the coloured smoke Diabolik uses to evade his pursuers. His underground super-pad is one of the more spectacular villainous residences, like something Norman Foster might design for Dr. No. It certainly makes the Batcave look shabby, although, as with all these underground complexes, you can’t help wondering who the hell built them and how they managed to escape detection while doing so. The plot, such as it is, is some forgettable nonsense concerning Diabolik’s cat-and-mouse game with his chief adversary, Inspector Ginko. Michel Piccoli plays the inspector and it’s surprising seeing the splendid Terry-Thomas as a government official who Diabolik embarrasses with “exhilarating gas” at a press conference. The film is also embellished with a tremendously groovy score by Ennio Morricone.

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One of my favourite comic strip heroes when I was a kid was Billy the Cat in the Beano, the adventures of a super-agile boy in a black leather catsuit (no eyebrow-raising, please). I always had a fondness for these kind of characters and I’m sure I would have loved Danger Diabolik for the cat burglary and the Sixties’ zaniness had I seen it on TV. My only gripe now is I can’t quite believe that Diabolik is all that interested in his female companion, Eva, despite the scene where they have sex on a revolving bed covered in dollar bills. If he’d rescued Alain Delon’s taciturn assassin from death at the end of Le Samouraï, he could find Eva a nice young man in Monte Carlo, Jef Costello (as Delon is named in Melville’s film) could whack the pesky Inspector Ginko then the pair could live together in subterranean peace, at least until the next heist. We can but dream.

Hat-tip to Mark Pilkington for alerting me to this in the first place. Bava’s Diabolikal influence lives on via Roman Coppola’s 2001 homage to Sixties’ camp, CQ, and the Beastie Boys’ video for Body Movin’.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Fantômas
The persistence of memory

 


 

Posted in {architecture}, {comics}, {film}, {horror}, {pulp}.

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9 comments or trackbacks

  1. #1 posted by Nathalie

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    The fumetto is far darker than this movie too.
    You can have a look at the trailer (with or without commentary) at Trailers from Hell.

  2. #2 posted by Wiley

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    I only know of this film (Diabolik) because it was mentioned in ‘Immoral Tales’ but speaking of anti-heroes with bad ass underground lairs, does anyone here know where one can find the Georges Franju remake of Judex. It is easy to find the original and I’ve never been too fond of remakes in general, but I always thought Franju could maybe remake an old classic as well as Carpenter did with ‘The Thing’.

  3. #3 posted by John

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    I’ve wanted to see Franju’s Judex for years as well. Always liked Les Yeux sans Visage and I’ve seen a clip from Judex which features a masked ball that looks like a Max Ernst picture with all the guests wearing bird masks.

  4. #4 posted by Nathalie

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    Judex is fantastic, completely surrealistic in many ways.

  5. #5 posted by John

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    I’m jealous, Nathalie! Anyway, watch this space for more tomorrow…

  6. #6 posted by Eroom Nala

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    Just to change the topic I suppose the female equivalent of this would be Modesty Blaise.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modesty_Blaise

    How about Terence Stamp as a gay icon?

  7. #7 posted by John

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    Yeah, Modesty Blaise is a sort of female Diabolik although a bit more rounded (as it were) character-wise. I nearly mentioned the film above since Diabolik may well have been modelled after Losey’s version which is yet another slice of Sixties camp.

    Terence is certainly an icon for me, at least in his early days. Very cute in Billy Budd and dashingly erotic in Pasolini’s Teorema where he seduces an entire family, father and son included.

  8. #8 posted by Thom

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    I love Mario Bava! “Blood & Black Lace” is one of my favorites; it’s worth viewing for the wigs alone!

  9. #9 posted by John

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    Trust you to notice the wigs! I still haven’t seen that one. Something for the shopping list, I think.

 


 

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