Genre: Action and Crime Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.
Release Date: January 24th, 1968 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Mario Bava Actors: John Phillip Law, Marisa Mell, Michel Piccoli, Adolfo Celi, Claudio Gora, Mario Donen, Renzo Palmer, Caterina Boratto, Lucia Modugno, Annie Gorassini, Terry-Thomas
nstead of $10 million in cash, a heavy security detail guards an armored truck full of blank paper bills. It’s an exercise in deception, aimed at eluding not just the criminal underworld, but also, primarily, Diabolik (John Phillip Law), a master thief who is surely interested in disrupting the largest shipment of dollars ever made by the First International Bank Trust Company. And, sure enough, after the decoy vehicle has departed, and a sharp black Rolls Royce is filled with a few bags of the real money, another car arrives to tail the loot – arranging for colorful gas to confuse the man in charge, Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli), and make a clean getaway.
Like a Bond film, this cold open introduces the authorities, a villain, a heist, and then the theme music. But unlike 007, the following sequences continue along the same story, as Diabolik, dressed all in black with a latex mask to match, races away in a sports car, avoiding machine gun fire before meeting up with his partner-in-crime, Eva Kant (Marisa Mell) – a luscious, leggy blonde – to ditch his car and escape into a massive subterranean lair (not unlike Batman’s cavernous hideout), full of technological wonders and limitless resources. Here, crime certainly does pay.
Ennio Morricone’s hip, groovy music sets the perfect tone for Diabolik’s swingin’ thefts and romantic entanglements – and Mell’s lengthy shower scene and a romp in a spinning bed, entirely covered in the stolen cash (which is just barely enough to cover her bits). Curiously, the government becomes the antagonist, represented by the sensational Terry-Thomas (effortlessly providing comic relief) as the Minister of the Interior, despite the film not going out of its way to depict systemic bureaucratic corruption as a reason to despise the establishment. In fact, when the police go after criminal kingpin Ralph Valmont (Adolfo Celi), using emergency initiatives, it never even seems like an abuse of power. It does, however, create an incentive for Valmont to seek protection for his lucrative businesses – in exchange for capturing Diabolik. “It takes a thief to catch a thief.”
“He’s certainly not going to make a fool of me.” Oddly, more than 30 minutes transpire before Diabolik finally speaks; he’s the strong, silent type, lured out of his cozy sanctuary only to craftily purloin a necklace of emeralds for his girl – yet another caper that doesn’t make him out to be a righteous superhero as much as a mere bandit, even if he has all the trappings of a hi-tech crime-fighter. It’s undoubtedly strange for the movie to use a rogue – someone who robs from both the taxpayer and the rich to keep for himself, unafraid of killing random security guards and cops in the process – as the central perspective. He’s no Robin Hood.
As if to recalibrate the moral compass, Valmont is more despicable, designed very much like a Bond baddie (actor Celi was, in fact, nemesis Largo in “Thunderball”), utilizing trap doors in the floor of his airplane, a slew of henchmen, and hostage-taking as easy coercion. Though Diabolik isn’t much better, at least there’s something amusing about his willingness to cause considerable collateral damage, all while maniacally laughing in the faces of his enemies. Audiences will likely want him to succeed, even though that means the collapse of the country. Plus, he gets a few snappy one-liners, wears disguises, and always saves the girl (it’s also worth noting that he’s strictly monogamous).
But the storyline is trivial at best, especially when, about two-thirds into the picture, it feels as if a new film has begun. It’s basically a serial, stylish as it may be, with multiple, disparate adventures stitched together – perhaps not unexpected, considering that the source material is a comic strip. At least the ending is satisfying, allowing both sides to win … if only momentarily.
– Mike Massie