Stylish, unadulterated camp, with the essence of
too-cool-for-skool. Chuck in the youthful and heavily-tanned Terrance
Stamp, the ultimate fag hag Modesty Blaise (in the form of Italian
actress Monica Vitti), and what you have is a sure-fire pink pound bet.
With sixities fashion making a comeback (least we should forget Naomi Campbell’s
attire at the war crimes trial of the former Liberian ruler Charles
Taylor, as she murmured that ‘it’s a inconvenience’ – beehive an’ all),
and so we hark back to films of that era. Director Joseph Losey’s (The Servant) Modesty Blaise (1966) is a reminder of all that was fun during that decade.
Parodying Bond, and his genre (think Austin Powers), the surreal, comedic spy-fi, the film is loosely-based upon Peter O’Donnell’s popular comic strip upon which Evan Jones‘ based his screenplay.
Former crime boss Modesty Blaise has been recruited by British
Intelligence to help prevent a diamond theft, masterminded by Gabriel (Bogarde). Blaise is united with her longtime assistant and confidant, Willie Garvin (Stamp) who owes Blaise a life debt from his earlier life as a criminal.
Fans of the comic strip and novels may be disappointed in the fact
that the movie does not follow the true concept of Modesty. In complete
contrast, the original works are character-driven with exciting,
intelligent plotlines; and, with only a touch of humor. In the absence
of a clear plotline, the best thing about Losey’s film is in it’s silliness – and the numerous (albeit fabulous) wardrobe changes.
Monica Vitti, despite her intense sensuality, fails to bring warmth
and charm to Modesty Blaise, her role further hampered by a thick
Italian accent and limited acting skills. The fight scenes are not convincing but then again, they are probably not suppose to be.
Terence Stamp has little to do other than to boff the ladies. The
funniest character is Gabriel’s side-kick Mrs. Fothergill (Mini-me?) who
gets her kicks by killing people.
Anyone deluded into thinking Dirk Borgarde was straight, may have
something to think about after witnessing his role as the fey baddie –
the silver-wigged ‘villian of the piece’. Did the former matinee star
regret signing up to this spoof? Who knows? But Bogarde’s controversial
film choices later in his career led him to have something of a cult
following. Bogarde starred in the landmark 1961 film Victim,
playing a homosexual London barrister who fights the blackmailers of a
young man with whom he has had an emotional relationship. Victim was the
first mainstream British film to treat homosexuality convincingly which
had some effect upon a contemporary change in English law which
decriminalized consensual homosexual acts.
Modesty Blaise comic strip has since received two more screen
adaptations, a television film in 1982 with starring Ann Turkel as
Blaise, and a prequel in 2003 with My Name Is Modesty, starring
Alexandra Staden. Despite it’s flaws, Losey’s version offers more
entertainment value. A moderate success at the time, the hilarious romp is a pure camp classic.