Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Diabolik (1968) – MST3K Review

Super cool super thief Diabloik (John Philip Law) and his lover Eva (Marisa Mell) are the most wanted criminals in Europe. Time and again they execute impossible jobs under the nose of the exasperated Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli). But now big time gangster Ralph Valmont (Adolfo Celi) is tired of the police coming down on his operations to find Diabolik. So he teams up with Ginko in attempt to catch the super thief and get him out of the way for good. Little do they know that they are dealing with a man who is a master of disguise, has a super secret lair, crazy gadgets and the endless devotion of Eva. It’s going to take more than these two knuckleheads to catch the uncatchable Diabolik!

Movie Review:
We’ve seen this before. Take one fairly good film – edit the crap out of it, and if it’s foreign make sure to dub it atrociously. Then slap it on VHS or on TV and make a quick buck. MST3K has thrived on these disasters in the past, especially in the form of the Russian fantasy films or the Japanese TV adventures. But another avenue for comedy are the endless 60’s and 70’s European rip offs for the James Bond franchise. Most of these were made in Italy and some even featured Bond cast members getting face time for a paycheck or two.

A little of that is going on here. Diabolik is actually based on a long running Italian comic book series about an antihero who goes out of the way to punish cops and criminals alike. This fits in fine with the late 60’s anti-police sentiment. The movie is filled to bursting with style and color and European finesse. The plot is pretty thin, but the objective was to make a movie as dynamic as the comic book it was based on.

But whatever success the movie made have had in its original incarnation is obliterated in this edited junk that Mike and the bots must endure. Taken out of context Diabolik seems like a madman, killing police and citizens because his Eva wants a necklace, or because he wants to steal some gold and thumb his nose at Ginko. Then there’s the ending, which leaves Diabolik trapped in gold and winking at the audience. So he’s defeated? The whole movie is spent showing you how cool he is and how dumb the cops are and you end it with him getting caught, kinda? Editing makes turns Diabolik into a mess.

The whole late 60’s vibe is extremely dated at times. The mocking of authority comes across as childish. Eva’s hair and outfits are so “cool” they generate laughter. I have to mention the club scene that would fit perfectly in an Austin Powers movie. It’s even got swirling lights and groovy music blaring. If you don’t know that it’s supposed to be over the top and flashy, the movie comes across as ridiculous and bizarre.

The dubbing doesn’t help. John Philip Law is obviously speaking in English as are a few other minor characters, but just about everyone else is obviously speaking another language and dubbed by the most grating voices that could be found. One of my favorites is Valmont’s arm candy who can’t stop babbling. Valmont snaps at her to “Shut yup!” so many times you start cheering him on.

Then there’s the music, done by the incomparable Ennio Morricone (famous for his work on Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns). Morricone’s music is very catchy and distinctive in this movie, but it’s also very silly. With the opening credits playing to what sounds like a bunch of women singing “Dee Dee Daa” you just can’t take it seriously. It’s all very entertaining, but can see others finding it a major distraction.

This version of Diabolik is pretty strange, and if you don’t understand what it’s trying to be, a lot of humor can be found. But at its heart it’s not a bad movie at all. Fans of 60’s style and flash should find the unedited version and check it out – I think you’ll have a blast.

Episode Review:
We’ve arrived at the final episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Over its ten year run the show has had several finales. Some of them were your typical season ending episodes. Others were more important: the change of hosting duties from Joel to Mike, or the final episode done for Comedy Central. Sad to say that compared to those episodes Diabolik ends up falling a bit flat. I’ve been saying for the last few episodes that a lack of energy is apparent in the show, and here it rears its ugly head again. What should have been a real send off comes across as a middle of the road episode, one that doesn’t really celebrate the last ten years, but feels almost like the cast and crew going through the motions.

I’m getting a bit harsh here. It’s only noticeable if you compare it to episodes like Mitchell, Laserblast or even something like Overdrawn at the Memory Bank the finale of season eight. You still have very entertaining moments. Many of those will come for long time fans of the show, and appear during the host segments. Those who watch the show for the movie riffing will be a bit disappointed.

This is another case where riffing a movie that doesn’t take itself seriously to begin with backfires on the riffers. If Diabolik was made in the same spirit as Batman from 1989 or Dark Knight from 2008, it would have been a different story. But this is more in the style of the 60’s Batman television series melded with James Bond at his most over the top: You Only Live Twice for instance. It’s bright gaudy and silly and knows it. This makes mocking the movie seems kind of pointless. So Mike and bots best moments of riffing occur when they comment on how over the top everything is.

My favorite riffs come from Crow this time around and are all based on the musical score and songs by Morricone. During a guitar driven theme as a car races away Crow starts singing along to the music, "going down to the store, gonna pick up some bread". Then during the infamous “Deep Deep Down” song in the opening credits, Crow says, “You know I’ve been considering the argument presented here, and I have to say, Dee Dee Daa guys. Seriously” Tom and Mike nod in agreement. The song is played again during the love scene. As Diabolik and Eva face mash Crow quips to the song, “Deep Deep Tongue!”

I also enjoy the riffing on the high tech lair of Diabolik. When the secret door opens to his garage, Tom wonders how much he had to pay the contractors to make that thing. When Eva walks into a long plastic tube leading to the bedroom Mike says in an effeminate voice, “I love what you’ve done with the Habitrail”. Anyone who’s had a hamster as a kid will get a kick out of it.

But other moments just kinda drift by with fewer riffs or ones that fall flat. Some of the strangest sequences in Diabolik don’t get much mention. This riffing session is just adequate at best. I was in the mood for it this viewing and enjoyed it, but the previous viewing left me very cold.

This episode is better remembered for its host segments and frankly for fans of the show they are the real reason to seek this episode out. Things start off with Tom having issues getting his hover skirt to work properly. Turns out the Satellite of Love Employee Handbook was wedged in there. The procedure writer in me got a kick out of Pearls rules and regulations. Pearl then rigs up a joystick to control the SOL with. She is using it so vigorously that she breaks it, causing the SOL to plummet down toward earth. There’s no way to stop the fall, so Pearl decides to let Mike crash, but first one last movie. At the first break Mike and the bots have packed and are discussing what to do with all the extra Tom Servos around the ship (a nice little nod to long time viewers who’ve seen Tom duplicated many times). At the next break we check in at Castle Forrester. Everyone’s got a new job, Pearl is the new dictator for life of Qatar, Bobo will be working at the zoo and Observer… um well, he’s got a lot of stuff going on… really. For the next break Crow is scared of living on Earth, so Mike’s come up with a nice little song called “To Earth” to cheer Crow up. We haven’t had a good song from the crew in a while (Joel used to do that a lot more). It’s a fun one to end on.

The final segment has the SOL coming in for a landing. Everything starts going wrong, with pieces of the ship fall off. Mike asks Pearl for help. Her reply, “Look Nelson, move on. I have.” And she cuts the connection. The SOL crashes! Then we’re in a little apartment with Crow and Tom sitting on the couch. Mike is coming over with a big bowl of rice (a nod to his attempt at creating EXTREME RICE!). Turns out Gypsy now runs a huge company and is making tons of money. She was always the smartest one of the robots. While Mike and the bots settle in the watch a movie. Turns out its The Crawling Eye, the same movie Joel and the bots riffed back in 1989 for the first official episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

That final segment is one of my favorites and really it’s the best of the bunch (as much as I enjoy the song). It wraps up the show really well. It’s a shame the rest of the episode is really only an average effort. But as I and many fans of the shows will point out, even an average episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is better than just about any average episode of television comedy. Maybe I hold it against the episode that it’s the last one, but I wish they had gone out with something like “Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders”.

Still I give Diabolik three gold encrusted super thieves out of five.

This episode is available on DAP

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