Thursday, February 14, 2008

Kriminal (1966) and Il Marchio Di Kriminal (1968)

I recently got the chance to check out Pulp Video's PAL region DVD releases of Kriminal and Il Marchio Di Kriminal, the two live action films based on the Italian comic book character created by Roberto Raviola and Max Bunker. Keith over at Teleport City has done his usual thorough job of dissecting Kriminal, so I won't be giving either of these the full Lucha Diaries treatment. I'll just say that both films are worth a look, though English speakers might want to campaign for a subtitled release; these are really caper films in nature, and as such aren't action oriented to the extent that lack of fluency in Italian doesn't become an obstacle.

It seems like Italy produced about a million of these comic book movies with costumed protagonists during the sixties. And, from Superargo to Goldface, most of them are a recipe for disappointment. They always sound like loads of fun when described, but in reality often suffer from sloppy execution and weak budgets. Of course, they can't all be Danger: Diabolik. And while the Kriminal films don't quite approach the rarified air of Mario Bava's near-perfect cinematic comic book, they do exhibit a level of craft and sophistication beyond that of many of their peers--as well as a couple imaginative attempts to duplicate the graphic look of their source material.

Kriminal is a costumed master thief like Diabolik, though of a much more ruthless variety. He has no qualms about murdering people in cold blood if it will get him closer to whatever loot he's after at the moment, and he frequently does so--and by a variety of imaginative means--over the course of the two films. In short, he makes the idea of the anti-hero as defined by Hollywood look like a neurasthenic cub scout in comparison. Both films make wan attempts to suggest that Kriminal might face some kind of karmic retribution for his crimes, but in the end there's no mistaking that he's the guy we're meant to be rooting for. Andrea Bosic as Inspector Milton of Scotland Yard plays the foil, and the action of the films parallels his hunt for Kriminal with Kriminal's hunt for treasure. This is a classic amoral universe were dealing in here, and there doesn't appear to ever be any suggestion that Milton's motives or character exist on any higher plane than his prey's.

Dutch actor Glenn Saxson, who plays Kriminal, could be the guy for whom the term "movie star good looks" was invented. His chiseled, perfectly angled features and fixed edifice of blonde hair fit perfectly in the stylized world on screen, but he'd look like a bit of a freak if you actually saw him walking down the street. His arid prettiness and sharply tailored attire provide a nicely jarring contrast to the skeleton suit he wears during his prowling, and his mannerisms go a long way toward telegraphing a character who, despite whatever role he may be playing, is scheming for advantage at absolutely all times.

Kriminal was directed by Umberto Lenzi (who, fortunately for us, appears to have been actually interested in the project in this case), while Il Marchio Di Kriminal was directed by Fernando Cerchio. Despite the change in directors, both films have a markedly similar look, one that makes the most of the glamour and physical beauty of the international locations and actors on hand (which include, in addition to Glenn Saxson, the lovely Helga Line). One nice touch that Il Marchio Di Kriminal adds is a device by which a shot will momentarily morph into a comic book panel so that we can see what a character is thinking by way of a thought balloon. Given the source material, I actually would have liked to see more such touches in the films, since, though both of them are attractively rendered, they have a shortage of elements that really make them pop in both the visual and artistic sense.

All in all, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Kriminal films to those who enjoy stylish 1960s pop entertainment, though I have to admit that I actually expected them to be a bit trashier than they were, and actually found myself disappointed when they weren't. I think it may just be that I've been ruined by the Turkish Kilink films. Now those are some movies that really know how to take the concept of a ruthless master criminal in a skeleton suit and exploit it for all its lurid potential.


Adam Smasher said...

Nice write up - But I disagree with comments about Superargo being a disappointment. Superargo vs. Diabolicus was superb and while repetitive, Superargo vs the Faceless Giants was great fun as well. I love Italian comic book movies from the 60s. Along with Diabolik and Kriminal I also liked Flashman, The Three Fantastic Supermen and the hilarious Fantastic Argoman

BTW, offers up copies of Kriminal with English subtitles (but not for the sequel). Now if I could only get a subtitled version for Fantabulous Inc. I’d be set!

Todd said...

I'm on board with you there, Inframan. As you'll see from my recent Teleport City review of Superargo vs. Diabolicus, I've had a dramatic change of heart where Superargo is concerned. No one's ever going to convince me that Avenger X doesn't suck, though.