The weekend before last, I was delighted to receive my copy of Tim Lucas’s long-awaited and highly anticipated magnum opus, Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark. The book, clearly the definitive work on the great Italian director, pleasantly ate up most of my weekend, but I still can’t help but feeling I’ve barely scratched the surface. That’s because it’s more than eleven hundred pages, and two and a half inches thick! It’s also nearly a foot tall and almost as wide, so that makes for a lot of words per page. Every time I walk through the living room and catch sight of it, I think, "Holy shit, that is one big book!"
Mario Bava is most famous for his horror movies, so what does all this have to do with spies? Plenty! Even though the better part of the book is obviously devoted to Bava’s revered horror output, it also covers the many other genres he worked in in extensive detail. (In fact, I had no idea just how much work he’d done in peplum prior to reading Mr. Lucas’s account!) One of those genres, of course, is spy.
For starters, there is an entire chapter on Bava’s pop masterpiece, Danger: Diabolik. (Yes, I consider that a spy movie through and through, though some may argue. True, it’s about a super-criminal instead of a super-spy, but it plays as a checklist of everything I look for in a great Eurospy caper: dashing hero, beautiful women, fast sports cars, wild action, underground lairs, amazing setpieces, bizarre deaths, and Emilio Largo himself, Adolfo Celi, as the villain!) Next, there is a very lengthy chapter on the making of what I’ve always considered to be Bava’s worst movie, and among the worst of the Eurospy genre, Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs. What I had never realized, though, and what Mr. Lucas sets the record straight about, is that there are two very different versions of this film... because it was shot so that it could be cut into a sequel to both Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine for American audiences, and to Due Mafiosi Contro Goldginger, for Italian audiences! That explains a lot. While the author admits neither version works particularly well, apparently the Italian one (which I’ve never seen) is far superior. Irregardless of the final product, the story of its making is absolutely fascinating, and the most detailed account I’ve ever read of a Eurospy production. I suspect that some of the problems Bava’s film encountered were not unique to it, but rather exemplary of how Eurospy movies were produced. Mr. Lucas also reveals that Bava was briefly attached to come aboard (and, it was hoped, to save) another troubled Eurospy production, Dick Smart 2.007, but ultimately opted out of it to make Girl Bombs.
Throughout these chapters and the whole book, we meet a succession of familiar faces from both behind and in front of the cameras in the Eurospy genre. Lucas takes the time to go off on welcome tangents and give mini-bios of varying depth on just about everyone Bava ever worked with, including Celi, Elke Sommer, Sylva Koscina, Tony Kendall, John Phillip Law, Christopher Lee, Telly Savalas, Antonio Margheriti, Daiah Lavi and many more! In some cases, these mini-bios are actually the most detailed accounts I’ve ever read on these people. He’s also found some amazing quotes from nearly all of them. Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark is not just a biography of one man, but ultimately functions as a cultural biography of the entire European film industry in the Sixties and Seventies. (It’s very fortunate for us, the readers, that the industry was so insular, and Bava’s career caused him to cross paths with so many people!) In fact, even though Bava officially directed only two straight-forward spy movies, there is probably enough information sprinkled throughout this massive tome to have filled a small volume on Eurospy stars alone... as well as several other genres! This book is a must-have not only for fans of the director, but for all serious students of film of that era.
If I have one complaint about the book, it would only be that it’s rather difficult to read comfortably. The text sucks you in, and hours pass while reading it, but as they do you really start to feel that twelve pound weight on your lap! This tome would probably be best read at a table or desk, but it’s so engrossing that I’d rather be able to curl up with it. Oh well, with all this information, that small problem was obviously unavoidable.
It’s a good time now for me to mention Mr. Lucas’s other work. The man is an extremely prolific writer, yet manages to remain devoutly factual and highly entertaining to read. In addition to spending the last thirty-two years working on Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark, he’s found time to publish an excellent bi-monthly magazine, Video Watchdog (for which he writes much of the content himself) and blog almost daily without overlapping content! I don’t know how he does it. On top of all that, he also manages to record audio commentaries for lots of Bava DVDs, including an enormously entertaining dialogue with John Phillip Law for Paramount's Danger: Diabolik special edition and an equally informative track for Dark Sky's sadly withdrawn Kill, Baby, Kill, which may never officially see the light of day (but is worth seeking out!). It bears mentioning that the last several issues of the magazine have all, coincidentally, been at least tangentially spy-related. Warner Oland’s Charlie Chan featured on the most recent issue, Wild Wild West graced the cover of the one before that, and Daniel Craig in Casino Royale on the one before that! The articles on all three subjects are typically in-depth and well worth seeking out. The blog also occasionally touches on spy-related topics, as it really runs the gamut on everything from Bava to Bob Dylan.