2/5/07

1013 Diabolik

(1968, Action, color)

Reverse Raccoon Man!

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:

A masked thief murders hundreds and steals billions in pursuit of good-natured, sexy fun.

Summary:

Reverse Raccoon-Man!Inspector Ginko has arranged for a huge contingent of armed guards to escort an armored car carrying ten million dollars—or so they think. Actually, Ginko has switched the millions with a decoy sack of blank paper. He and a trio of disguised cops plan to sneak the money to its destination in secret, thus avoiding the greatest thief in Italy, Diabolik! But the wily Diabolik (John Phillip Law of Space Mutiny) is not fooled. He lures them from their car with colored smoke, and then lifts it from the waterfront with a dock crane. He relieves the car of its expensive cargo and escapes by speedboat, and then by Jaguar. The empty Jaguar plunges off a cliff while Diabolik peels off his skintight rubber jumpsuit to drive off with his smokin’ hot girlfriend Eva. Later, in his shiny secret lair, they feed the money into a fan and make love in a shower of ill-gotten currency.

Distraught government officials react to this daring heist by calling a press conference to reinstate the death penalty. Diabolik and Eva thumb their noses at the establishment by drugging the attending dignitaries and journalists with “exhilarating gas,” which makes all assembled laugh uproariously. Meanwhile, Inspector Ginko takes out his frustration on the rest of the Italian criminal underworld by raiding a mellow hippie drug club. This really cheeses off the beefy criminal head honcho, Valmont (Adolpho Celi of Operation 007; he sports a girl yacht in this movie too). He cuts a deal with Ginko: all the criminals in Italy will band together and catch Diabolik if Ginko will just leave the poor hippies alone. Ginko agrees.

An English dignitary arrives in Italy to show off his wife’s emerald necklace. Naturally, Eva demands it as a birthday present from Diabolik. Also naturally, both Ginko and Valmont recognize the necklace as an obvious target and set traps to capture the vinyl-dipped miscreant. Diabolik avoids Ginko’s trap through the use of suction cups, a Polaroid photo, a catapult, and nudity. Eva, on the other hand, falls into Valmont’s trap when she is recognized at the scene. Valmont’s henchmen abduct her the next day.

Diabolik arranges to pay ten million in ransom, delivered mid-flight aboard Valmont’s dirigible. Valmont gives him a parachute and tell him that Eva waiting below. Diabolik jumps, but takes Valmont with him, demanding answers on the way down. They pull the parachute in time and arrive to find the place surrounded by cops. Diabolik rescues Eva and kills Valmont using the emeralds as bullets. Then he takes a drug to put himself in a death-like trance. Eva slips him the antidote in the morgue the next day. He dons a disguise to sign out Valmont’s cremated remains, sifting the ashes to recover the emeralds.

For the last caper of the film, Ginko tempts Diabolik one more time by melting down twenty-some-odd tons of gold into a single huge ingot, which he will then encase in steel and move cross-country by train. A little seduction and several strategically placed charges block the tracks, forcing the train to cross a trestle bridge instead. The bridge explodes too, sending the ingot to the bottom of the river, where Diabolik and Eva wait with floats and yellow submarine shaped like a ’53 Chevy convertible.

Back in the underground lair, Diabolik turns on the heat to melt the gold. He dons a heatproof suit and attaches a fire hose to the steel case so that he can spray the molten gold into brick molds. Meanwhile, Ginko has followed the ingot’s radioactive trail. (Oh, and the ingot’s radioactive. No one bothers to mention this till now.) The massive pipe organ/burglar alarm goes off while the formerly secret lair fills with cops. There’s an ineffectual firefight, and then the superheated ingot explodes, encasing Diabolik in molten gold.

Later, journalists gather to take pictures of Diabolik’s gilded corpse. After they’re gone, Eva appears to mourn. Ginko catches her, then lets her go when she begs him for just a few more seconds alone with her poor deceased lover. Diabolik winks at her just before she leaves with the inspector. He laughs maniacally after they leave.

Introduction:

This feels familiar...Tom can’t seem to hover at the level of the desk. Upon further investigation, Mike finds the Satellite of Love Employee Handbook wedged into Tom’s hoverskirt. It lays out the Satellite of Love’s policies on such important issues as discrimination (i.e., Pearl reserves the right to discriminate against anyone at any time). The procedure for lodging a complaint is remarkably similar to the process by which one would punch oneself in the face.

Host Segment One:

Crow asks about the Satellite of Love’s dental plan. Quoth the Handbook, “Shut up; you have no right to ask.” Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl has purchased a joystick from Radio Shack, which she uses to force the Satellite through some very un-Satellite-like maneuvers. The joystick breaks; the Satellite of Love falls and initiates automatic landing procedures. Brain Guy’s responses to Pearl’s pleas are somewhat garbled; the Mountain Dew she poured into his brain pan earlier has inhibited his ability to speak clearly, and also negated his ability to prevent the Satellite crew’s imminent escape. (Quoth he, “Chili squint.”) Pearl throws a screaming tantrum, sobbing until her mascara runs all the way down to her chin. She sends them one last movie.

Host Segment Two:

Mike prepares to return to Wisconsin by packing a suitcase full of rice. Crow has stuffed a garbage sack with dirty laundry and half-eaten food from the fridge. Tom takes a head-count and discovers an extra five hundred and seventeen extra hims on the Satellite of Love. He gets out a detonator and starts to self-destruct all his duplicates, one by one. In fact, it turns out he’s a duplicate himself. A long string of Servos queue up to take his place at the detonator, each one convinced that he is the original.

Host Segment Three:

Crow wants to know if the Satellite of Love has any kind of severance package, so that he can set himself up with a new blue suit and several large gambling debts as soon as he arrives on Earth. Pearl avoids the question to ramble about her new position as Dictator-for-Life of Qatar. Bobo’s post-Castle Forrester future has also been assured; he’s accepted a cushy new job at the zoo. Brain Guy would like to move in with Pearl or Bobo, but is rebuffed by both. He gives in and accepts employment as the All-Knowing Universal Consciousness of Rylos-14. And by the way, according to the Employee Handbook, the answer to Crow’s question is NO!

Host Segment Four:

Mike shows Tom scrapbook photos of a giant fiberglass muskie while Crow whimpers from under the desk. Turns out he’s nervous about leaving the Satellite for the large, unknown Earth, filled with wars and traffic accidents. Mike sings a song to cheer him up. “To Earth… / Maybe we’ll meet Colin Firth.” Crow expresses his doubts in song form as well, citing such unpleasant elements of Earth life as “Sean Mullins and Alanis Morisette,” the mere mention of which fill Tom with doubt and dread. By the end of the song, Crow is convinced to come out and look at the fiberglass muskie photos while Tom whimpers from under the desk.

Host Segment Five:

The Satellite of Love reaches the final part of its descent and then suddenly plummets out of control. Mike and the ‘Bots beg Pearl for help. “Move on. I am,” she replies, and unplugs their connection. The Satellite crashes. The screen goes white. Some time later, the ‘Bots move into Mike’s one-bedroom apartment. (Tom and Crow, that is; Gypsy has her own hugely successful corporation.) They gather on the couch to mock a late-night showing of The Crawling Eye. Quoth Crow, “This movie looks kind of familiar…”

Stinger:

Valmont on his girl yacht, staring out to sea. “Is that stud coming?” he says.

Thoughts:

Another triumph for Diabolik!?Whether or not you consider Diabolik to be a bad movie depends on your point of reference. Anyone who comes in expecting a nail-biting crime thriller or a biting, satiric indictment of The Establishment will come away disappointed. It’s juvenile and ridiculous, refusing even to acknowledge the enormous death toll or the potentially disastrous economic consequences of Diabolik’s fun-loving criminal hijinks. On the other hand, it’s got lots of voluptuous women, stylized violence, and overcomplicated gadgets—just like any number of James Bond knock-offs (Operation 007, Secret Agent Super Dragon, Agent for H.A.R.M., etc.) appearing previously on MST3K. Of course, the films I just parenthetically mentioned are sexy but ultimately nonsensical train wrecks, while, for quality, Diabolik compares favorably with just about any Roger Moore James Bond flick you’d care to name. The only really major problem, for American audiences at least, is that it’s not a superspy film, and thus does not fit comfortably into the genre. No superspy means no sympathetic character, because when the fate of the world hangs in the balance, even the smarmiest, most violent spy in the world gains some measure of appeal. Also, to viewers who, like myself, have been trained to follow the superspy-supermodel-supervillain love triangle, a relationship consisting solely of a supermodel and a supervillain seems disconcertingly out of balance.

Of course, the genre inconsistencies would not be a problem for Diabolik’s intended audience: Italian comic book fans. It seems that Diabolik is a popular Italian comic book anti-hero from the sixties, and like Batman, he occupies a genre of his own. (I’ve never read any of Diabolik’s exploits, but I understand he’s even more senselessly violent in print.) I suppose I could question why the Italians choose to idolize a fictional but brutal criminal just because he robs people with murderous flair, but then I’d have to speculate about why Americans idolize fictional vigilantes, when the only famous real-life vigilantes I can think of are known solely for setting fire to churches and ethnic minorities.

In lieu of more irrelevant social commentary, I now present a few of the film’s more amusing minor flaws and inconsistencies:

• Apparently, bank chairmen, foreign dignitaries, and treasury officials are just lining up to provide Inspector Ginko with cash deposits, priceless family heirlooms, and national gold reserves to use as bait, though I can’t imagine why. After the first ten million dollar fiasco, I personally wouldn’t trust the man to guard a fiver.

• Okay, so Diabolik shoots Valmont with the emeralds, then recovers them from his cremated body. Are we meant to understand that a) the British noblewoman who originally owned the emeralds had them set in cordite-filled casings, b) though Diabolik got stripped and pulled out for an autopsy, the authorities just shoved Valmont whole into the oven without bothering to undress or look inside him, and c) though normal emeralds tend to crack and discolor under moderate heat, these are not only strong enough survive the intense sudden heat of an automatic weapon, but also the even hotter interior of a crematorium? I guess we are.

• And speaking of the crematorium, why is there an old lady waiting to see a doctor? Do combination geriatric medicine clinics/funeral homes actually exist? Would anyone go to them if they did?

• This is more a problem with the localization than the actual film, but the line chosen for the stinger wins first prize in the category of “Most Unintentionally Filthy Line of Dialogue Spoken in an MST3K Film.” The Deadly Bees and Boggy Creek II win second and third prizes, respectively.

• Why is Diabolik laughing at the end? Sure, he’s still alive, but Eva’s been arrested, and she hasn’t ever demonstrated the ability to escape imprisonment on her own. We appear to end the movie at an impasse, with each major character depending on the other for rescue.

My favorite host segment moment is the string of Tom Servos, each one pushing the detonator after the other in the sure but mistaken belief that he is the original and all the others are duplicates. My other favorite host segment moment comes just as the Satellite is about crash. Crow wanders into the panicked chaos to ask, “Have you seen my other sweater?” “Nooooooooooooo!” Mike cries as the Satellite shudders with impact. My least favorite is host segment four, which, though well constructed, is built around a mediocre song. All the other segments are well above average, though.

The ridiculous film offers plenty of opportunity for mockery. Crow comments on the groovy spy-ish soundtrack by saying, “This music would work better with women bikinis shaking all over the place. I guess that’s true of any music, really.” When we first see Diabolik in his form-fitted vinyl ninja mask, Tom says, “When he takes that mask off later, his weird tan lines will give him away,” while Mike calls him, “Reverse Raccoon Man!” As the series finale, this episode could be considered required viewing regardless of quality, but it features excellent host segments and some very funny mocking of a relatively decent movie as well. Last episode or no, this one’s worth repeated viewings.