Modesty Blaise (1966)

Modesty Blaise (1966)

“We’ve no alternative; we must have Modesty Blaise.”

World-class jewel thief Modesty Blaise (Monica Vitti) is hired by a pair of British officials (Harry Andrews and Alexander Knox) to send a bribe of diamonds to a sheik (Clive Revill), knowing that a rival thief (Dirk Bogarde) will attempt to snatch them as well. Modesty teams up with her long-time partner (Terence Stamp) to complete her mission, which includes facing villainous Bogarde and his wife (Rossella Falk) on their isolated Mediterranean island.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Dirk Bogarde Films
  • Harry Andrews Films
  • Joseph Losey Films
  • Satires and Spoofs
  • Spies
  • Terence Stamp Films
  • Thieves and Criminals

This notorious misfire by director Joseph Losey — based on a novel featuring the titular comic strip character — is a colorful bomb of a satire attempt. The introduction to DVD Savant’s review sums the movie up well:

Modesty Blaise can best be described as an interesting mess. One of director Joseph Losey’s most expensive and atypical films, it’s a complicated, confusing, and sometimes tiresome collection of SuperSpy situations and characters that never finds a satisfying tone, although some aspects of its production are superb.

Later, DVD Savant describes it as “a comedy without laughs, that has no control over its tone” — a movie that “starts like a James Bond film and crumbles into rather boring scenes punctuated by pitiful jokes and impenetrable in-jokes.” Italian actress Vitti — best known for her starring roles in Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961), L’Eclisse (1962), and Red Desert (1964) — is appropriately quirky and beautiful yet somehow not quite believable as an agile super-spy:

Much more intriguing (though under-developed) is Bogarde’s fussy super-criminal Gabriel, wearing dapper clothes and a silver wig and caring far too much about details of the food he eats:

… while allowing torture and killings to occur around him.

This movie has color and style to spare, but it’s frustrating to be tossed from set to set — with Vitti rapidly changing outfits and hair colors as well:

— for no real purpose other than whimsy. Given its budget, Modesty Blaise had the potential to be a clever, female-centric send-up of James Bond flicks, but it falls far short of this goal.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Dirk Bogarde as Gabriel
  • Jack Hildyard’s cinematography

  • Stylish sets and outfits

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one time look if you’re curious.


2 thoughts on “Modesty Blaise (1966)

  1. Not must-see. But… on a second viewing (4/15/20), it seems I enjoyed this – warts and all – more than you did. I do think it’s a flawed film that could have been better but I also think it’s a reasonably breezy example of conscious camp – and, for that reason, I would recommend it to film fanatics. As per my post in ‘Revival House of Camp & Cult’ (fb):

    “If you’re prepared to transport yourself to South America… cross two rivers full of alligators… hack your way through a jungle… and then seduce a military governor… well, uh… perhaps.”

    ‘Modesty Blaise’: The first time I saw this flick (a long time ago), I didn’t enjoy it much. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for what it was – or maybe I wasn’t sure *what* it was. This viewing was different; if I didn’t love it, I certainly did enjoy it more.

    Joseph Losey’s gleeful exercise in style-over-substance is such that you won’t (and shouldn’t) care about its existence as a spy movie spoof. (It has a who cares?-plot.) Only two things matter: the fact that the cast is enjoying being immensely silly – and the ab-fab combination of a production design of exotic locales and ’60s-pop color schemes.

    Acting honors go to Dirk Bogarde as Gabriel, effete mastermind and gay as fuck – who is also MB’s nemesis. Bogarde is given the best lines in the script (i.e., to his chef / servant, “Oleg… can it be that this egg is fertilized?”) and he’s that rare villain (who, of course, also has a food taster) who can raise considerable havoc while basically lounging and expressing ennui.

    As Modesty, Monica Vitti is quite lovely playing the kind of super-spy whose priority is fashion-chic. No matter what kind of strenuous or dangerous activity she’s confronted with, she always looks ‘Vogue’-ready. Still – for the performance, I found myself wishing she had more of the ‘knowing’ quality that, for example, Jane Fonda would later bring to ‘Barbarella’. (MV does have a number of fun moments, not the least of which is her girl fight with Rossella Falk – which ends splendidly!).

    As her sidekick, Terence Stamp is only asked to be adorable (which he is). The script credited to Evan Jones was also worked on with an uncredited Harold Pinter… which is odd since Pinter had no history of comedy. (His contemporary Joe Orton might have been a better candidate, which likely would have made the film even funnier.)

  2. I’m sucker for camp sixties films and this one ticks all the boxes (just like the other Losey 60s hated movie: Boom!).

    It’s definitely style over substance but with such style who cares. Probably when it was released all the designs and clothes made less of an impression but 50 years later it’s all eye-candy. The music by John Dankworth doesn’t disappoint either and it’s probably best not to view similar films like this too frequent – it can become tiresome – I thought this was one of the best spy-spoof films to be released in the mid-sixties.

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