Danger: Diabolik (Mario Bava / Italy-France, 1968):

The title appears next to a CinemaScope close-up of the Euro-trash rogue, John Phillip Law in skintight black Fantômas rubber suit, bwa-ha-ha-ing over his latest affront -- namely, literally lifting a fortune from under the nose of his police-inspector archenemy (a slumming Michel Piccoli). Then on to his underground hideout, fully equipped with modernist jungle-gym interiors, ululating Morricone score, and immense rotating bed, dollar bills fluttering as he romps with his accomplice, micro-skirted fembot Marisa Mell. Fumetti theatrics and candy-colored smoke, but it's Mario Bava behind the camera, so there's splendor to the lava-lamp psychedelia: where Losey's hatred of the spy-a-go-go genre accentuates purposeful ugliness in Modesty Blaise, Bava's cinematographer-eye courts hedonistic glitter. Kingpin Adolfo Celi hurls bodies from his private jet, model trains blow up, and Diabolik is killed in action just to be revived, mid-autopsy, still in time to make off with a prized emerald necklace -- one melee melts into the next, Bava's lushly crowded frames evoking panels from the comix, flattening zooms and rear-projection adding to the graphic-design landscape. Animated ink spreads over a map while "exhilaration gas" gets sprayed over a press conference, culminating in a track-in on Terry-Thomas' guffawing maw; everywhere, the picture retains a duplicitous sheen of pop-swank. Appropriately, the playboy-hero himself ends up acknowledged as a late-'60s object d'art, sculpted into a Cocteau icon under an avalanche of molten gold, still winking for the sequel that never came. Or maybe it did -- Barbarella, The Spy Who Loved Me, Austin Powers. With Claudio Gora and Mario Donen.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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