Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Day 11: Danger: Diabolik

Song: You, only you, deep down… in my heart deep down, in my blood deep down, very deep deep down...

Danger: Diabolik is a winning, lurid movie. It’s exciting, funny, absurd, and so very of-its-time that its retro-charm destroyed my retro-charm meter (which looks curiously like a mood ring). Any movie that opens with its hero, an arch criminal, stealing ten million dollars from under the noses of the authorities and laughing at them — no, cackling at them in a full-throated MUAHAHAHAHA — is off to a good start as far as I’m concerned. If the movie then launches into a title sequence featuring random spinning colors while a song, written by Ennio Morricone, blares out, grabbing you by the ears to tell you, “listen, dammit, LISTEN OR I’LL JUST GET LOUDER...” I’m confident I’m going to like it. This is one very fun comic book movie.

Effectively combining the worlds of Batman and James Bond, the world of Danger: Diabolik is a colorful, archetype-filled landscape of cops and robbers, cool cats and squares. In this world, it is possible for one man to bring down the tax system of an entire nation by exploding a series of buildings with signs that say “TAX”. It’s the kind of world where mob kingpins own planes with trapdoors to dispose of their disobedient associates (and the air pressure problem is somehow fixed too). And in this world, it’s not unlikely to come across a round bed, rotating around a not-too-distant-futuristic hi-fi system.

This movie is ridiculous, to be sure, but there’s wit to it. One sequence has Diabolik trapped on top of a castle spire after stealing a necklace. The cops are in hot pursuit. He glances at a catapult. No way, I thought, he’s going to catapult off the roof! Sure enough, the cops break down the door in time to see Diabolik’s white-costumed body flung off the top of the building. The effect is fake-looking and laughable, but it fools the cops. They run down, unaware that a naked Diabolik is crouched behind the catapult, grinning, and, I assume, barely restraining another MUAHAHAHA. I had no reason to restrain my delighted laughter.

Yes, the pace lags occasionally. Yes, it’s the highest of high camp as Diabolik runs around in a black mask and suit, cackling at the authorities. Yes, the acting is bad and, yes, there are some real questionable plot and editing choices in the movie. But does it matter? When the pace lags, it’s because the movie is pausing to show off its mod stylishness, John Philip Law plays the titular character with infectious gusto, and if there are story problems, Morricone’s silly, in-your-face score covers up any ill-will you feel. Anyway, there’s a surprising sweetness to the relationship Diabolik has with Eva, his blonde bombshell partner-in-crime. The dialogue is also more clever than you’d expect, though the movie’s full of howlers (“I had the gold radioactivated”).

So, yeah, the movie’s not a triumph. It’s outrageously cheesy, but every time I thought I was laughing at the movie, it winked right at me, telling me I was laughing with it. When Diabolik flipped over the side of his car, it made me laugh, it thrilled me, and it reminded me of why the hell I watch movies anyway. Some things are just cool.


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Lord of the Rings would not have been any good if I had not first read the books. By reading them I knew what was going on.

Perhaps Passion of the Christ would be better if you would read the Bible first.

Watching a movie a day is a funny idea. Thanks for your posts.


Anonymous said...

First, films are intended to stand alone as independent pieces of art. They're not companion pieces to aid the unimaginative in visualizing characters and landscapes. By the same token, books are not Cliff notes intended to aid a moviegoer in following the plot of the film. A book and a film of the same title, based in the same narrative landscape, are nevertheless discrete artistic endeavours.

Re your comment: "Perhaps Passion of the Christ would be better if you would read the Bible first."

Passion of the Christ was a movie about a particular mythology. Reading the text sacred to followers of this mythology has little to do with the film itself. If the viewer needs to have read the text before seeing the film, Gibson didn't do a very good job capturing the essence of his pet mythology.

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First of all the Bible is not Myth. It is written in historical context that is verified by other historical sources.

2nd, when a movie is taking place in a particular historical or cultural context which very unfamiliar to the viewer, there is no possible way to completely explain all the back ground without being a 10 hour movie. (Which is why Passion was heavily edited)

Lord of the Rings is a good example of how there is a lot of back story that reading the books helps you understand. That is all I was saying.

Even if you believe the Bible is Myth, Gibson does not. Therefore, he tried not to have things which contradicted the Bible. He was very careful to portray historical figures loyally to the four gospels and Old Testament messianic prophecy.

So even thought you may not believe the Bible, it's back story has everything to do with properly understanding why Gibson did what he did in the movie.

I have liked reading your posts about movies. It's very entertaining. Peace.

David Wester said...

I'm a firm believer that movies are not books and therefore should be best as movies, not requiring the books. I enjoyed Lord of the Rings and have only read the Hobbit.

My problems with The Passion are on a filmmaking level. I loved The Last Temptation of Christ even though I'd never read the Bible. In fact, I finally got what the Jesus thing was all about from that movie because it showed what the sacrifice meant to the human side of Jesus.

Li said...

nice blog... if only we could all watch one movie a day..! i liked your comparison of Passion with Temptation, by the way. Passion is Mel Gibson's own vision of Christ suffering, just as the Temptation is Kazantzaki's (or Scorcese's: i've only read the book). There doesn't have to be a debate, except for the technical stuff ^_~ keep it up.

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Ann said...

hello! ur blog is ful of my fav. films!
and for that u rock! passion of Christ is a saddest story i've ever saw!
my fav. fan in lord of the rings is elijah wood!
hey! come and visit my blog,ok?
its: http://darkteenlife.blogspot.com
u must visit and write a comment as well!
ok! thats all for now!
oh by the way i am MaryAnn Jones!

Limecrete said...

If you haven't seen it, I'd recommend tracking down the episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 where they watched this movie. They skewered it hilariously.

Latigo Flint said...

I like your plan David Wester. Best of luck to you.

Are you open to movie requests? If so: Open Range and The Tao of Steve please.

Ash Karreau said...

This movie was much better when condensed into Beastie Boys video form

Bish said...

You must see the MST3K version of this movie - it is special since it was the very last episode they ever did. BTW, the chick in this movie was pretty darn smokin' hot, no?

Blandwagon said...

BTW, the chick in this movie was pretty darn smokin' hot, no?

Yes. Yes she was.


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