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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The other Eva Kant

The Italian Milanese sisters Angela and Luciana Giussani created in 1962 the fictional character ”Diabolik” as an anti-hero who steals from criminals by use of gadgets, tricks, deception and a set of lifelike masks. In the beginning he had no morality and killed to get his goal but over the course of the years this aspect has been softened. No hero, or in this case anti-hero, is as good as his cast so very soon at the beginning of his adventures the sister Giussani realised that telling stories about Diabolik and his robberies would get boring very quickly if they could not interact Diabolik with other characters, good or evil, to drive the stories forwards. So they created a recurring cast consisting of mainly Inspector Ginko and his girlfriend dutchess Altea di Vallenberg and a lot of other semi-regular characters like the little girl Bettina, who becomes friends with Diabolik and Eva.

In March 1963 with book #3 of the series “Il Arresto di Diabolik”, the sisters created the long-term female side-kick “Eva Kant” as lover, friend, complice and conscious for Diabolik. She is an attractive blond young woman from noble heritage known as “Lady Eva Kant, widow of Lord Kant”. The nobility was a hook for stories where Diabolik could steal jewels from the wealthy. That aspect was dropped through the years in favour of more hard core criminal stories with gangsters, drug lords, murderers, kidnappers, rapists…etc that readers liked to favour more.

What not many people know is that Eva Kant is not the first companion for Diabolik but his second. Another female character with the name “Elisabeth Gay”, modelled after the American actress Elisabeth Taylor, was some kind of partner for Diabolik in the first 2 issues of the series. Unfortunately Elisabeth was not, according to his creators, a good choice as counterpart for their hero so she had to go. Elisabeth betrayed Diabolik to inspector Ginko. In book #3 Eva Kant has a mysterious fascination for the dark hero and rescues him from the guillotine. As a reward the master criminal falls in love with her. In the next book #4 of April 1963 “Atroce Vendetta”, Elisabeth has to face the terrible revenge of Diabolik.

Eva Kant became the long time partner and mirror image for Diabolik. Diabolik drives a black Jaguar, type “E”. Eva Kant drives a white Jaguar, type “E”. Diabolik has short hair. Eva Kant has long hair. Diabolik has black hair. Eva Kant is blond. Diabolik wears a back mask and a one piece jump suit. Eva Kant wears no mask and a black sweater and pants. He is the burglar. She is the reason to steal the jewels, statues, money… whatever Eva Kant fancies for her enormous collection that she has build over the years.

Due to the enormous success of Diabolik in Italy in the 60’s, it wasn’t long that in 1967 a movie was produced with the title “Danger: Diabolik!”, loosely based on a few early stories of the comic book. After a long search, with candidates like Marilu Tolo, the producer Dino De Laurentiis decided that the French actress Catherine Deneuve would make an ideal Eva Kant opposite Diabolik played by John Phillip Law. During the course of the first few days of filming Mario Bava got agitated by her acting and diva like behaviour. He noticed that there was no chemistry between Law and her in the love scenes of the movie. Like in the comics, the first partner of Diabolik had to go.

Marisa Mell was, at that time starting to make a name in the international movie business with some highly visible movies like “Masquerade” with Cliff Robertson and Jack Hawkins, “Casanova 70” with Marcello Mastroianni and “Train d’enfer” with Jean Marais. She had the international appeal that Dino De Laurentiis was looking for to market his movie, not only in Italy but also internationally, especially in America.

Danger: Diabolik! was made in a period when spy movies were at an all time high thanks to the huge success of James Bond. A direct transfer from the serious Italian fumetti to the silver screen was a possibility but not chosen. High camp became the central focus of the movie! Marisa Mell, as a classical trained actress at the famous Max Reinhardt school of drama in Vienna, Austria, was able to bring this campy feeling to the movie. She had a terrific synergy with her onscreen partner John Phillip Law, just what Mario Bava was looking for. They were oozing sex on the silver screen.

The movie Eva Kant can not be compared to the comic book Eva Kant. The comic book version almost always has her hair in a bun while the movie version is wearing her hair straight. The comic book Eva Kant is not that sexual orientated as the movie version. Her wardrobe is often just plain 60's standard fair while the movie Eva has one sexy outfit next to the other. Who doesn't remember her sexy orange dress with clevage and black boots prior to the shower scene or the stunning black widow ensemble at the end of the movie while she mourns the death of Diabolik in his golden cage! Non of that in the comics. Character wise they are also very different in the two versions. The comic book character is rather strong in most of the stories unless her partner is in jail or prisoner of the gangster of the month. She than becomes weak and has a lot of doubts regarding her strength to free her partner which she eventually does each time! The movie Eva Kant is more of a sex toy for Diabolik and she is quit happy in that role. She has almost no identity of her own and her only aim in life is to please Diabolik. As a reward she gets the loot of the robberies.


Anonymous said...

Gran especialista en el tema: Carlos Aguilar

Baskingshark said...

Your blog is awesome! The version I have heard of the story about how Marisa came to play Eva Kant is that she was actually the third person cast in the role. They first hired a model whose name no-body seems to remember and who was a girlfriend of one of the producers. She couldn't act and had no chemistry with John Philip Law, so they fired her, and hired Deneuve. Deneuve was a favourite for the role because she looked very like Eva does in the comics. However, she too had no chemistry with John Philip Law and was unable to adapt her "serious" acting style to such an outrageous film, so she was fired as well. At that point, the producers were considering Marisa and Marilu Tolo for the part, and decided that Marisa was the best choice because her beauty was striking in such a way that she looked like she might have been drawn by a comic book artist herself. She also had plenty of chemistry with John Philip Law (in the commentary on the DVD, he suggests that they had an affair off-screen as well). The producers certainly found the perfect Eva Kant in Marisa!

Mirko di Wallenberg said...

Thank you Baskingshark for your nice words about the blog! I am doing my best to keep it interesting and informative, not just only about Marisa Mell, but also about the world she lived in during her life! I have tons of stuff about her that I collected during the last ten years and I am still collecting! I will be putting them up in the months, and hopefully in the years, to come! There are a lot of gems among them. Thanks for your comment regading the Eva Kant issue!

Baskingshark said...

Hi Mirko,

You're welcome - I love eurocult actresses and I think Marisa is the most fascinating of all of them!

Interestingly, before the Maria Bava version, there was another attempt to make a Diabolik movie, in 1965. The director-producer Seth Holt started work on a movie starring Jean Sorel as Diabolik and Elsa Martinelli as Eva Kant, but he ran out of money before he got very far and the film was shelved. A few very rare photos still exist of Sorel and Martinelli as Diabolik and Eva. Strangely, they decided that Eva should have black hair - in a similar style to Diabolik's, so Elsa looks rather odd!

Mirko di Wallenberg said...

Hi Baskingshark, the new book Cronoistoria di un Film has many pictures and articles of that time before the movie was made, also of Jean Sorel and Elza Martinelli in their outfits. It also confirmes what you have written!