Starring Monica Vitti, Terence Stamp, Dirk Bogarde
Scott’s Review #1,243
Reviewed April 9, 2022
Loosely based on a British comic strip of the same name, Modesty Blaise (1966) is a campy, over-the-top escapist film that features a relaxed style but a convoluted plot. The story doesn’t matter much and the film feels based on the James Bond film series with some Dick Tracy and Brenda Starr comic elements thrown in.
Throughout the action, I chuckled at the situation comedy antics of the characters. Both heroes and villains get mixed up in one hokey situation after another and all of the actors seem well aware that they are not performing Shakespearean comedy.
They forge ahead with gusto making it as much of a zany offering as humanly possible.
I mused at how much the film was reminiscent of televisions, Get Smart, a foolish but sweet-natured 1960s spy-genre offering.
I challenge the odd decision to make a film of this genre a bloated one hour and fifty-seven minutes. A spry ninety or ninety-five minutes would have been more than ample time to wrap up the experience and allow audiences to head for the exits.
This might prevent some from realizing how silly a film they’d just sat through
Modesty Blaise is not a traditionally good film but grooviness and pizazz are the main attractions as characters indulge in an orgy of colorful situations, and preposterous setups.
Lavish locales like Amsterdam, London, and the roaring beaches off the coast of the Meditteranean Sea bring the film back from going too far off the rails and pepper it with some cultivation.
If one is in the right mood Modesty Blaise is a chuckle fest but if aching for high art don’t waste your time. The psychedelic and groovy art design and Mad Men-like sets won me over as I quickly forgot to try and piece together the overcomplicated plot.
I simply didn’t care who was who or who was trying to outwit who and why. And I was okay with that.
Gorgeous Italian actress Monica Vitti leads the charge followed by the dashing English actor, Terence Stamp. Together, they make a lusty and good-looking pair though Vitti gets no acting accolades from me.
Her looks are the primary reason for her casting win.
The actress plays a beautiful former criminal named Modesty who decides to go straight and work for the Secret Service. They send her to infiltrate a ring of jewel thieves. She is not especially respected by the stuck-up older regime but she shrugs it off and offers her best services.
Soon after she joins the gang, sophisticated and dangerous head honcho Gabriel (Dirk Bogarde) grows suspicious of his new charge, and Modesty realizes that British Intelligence gave her a mission they could care less if she survives.
She then enlists her former partner in crime, Willie (Stamp), to help her out of her peril while outsmarting both sides.
Most of the action scenes are ludicrous. The likelihood of any of the stories being true is slim to none. Plenty of sequences takes place on a luxury yacht or some other water transportation so that viewers can see Vitti and Stamp clad in as little as possible.
I smirked at more than one James Bond nod though I dare say some influence on the still-to-be-made Diamonds Are Forever (1971) is noticed.
If I’m making Modesty Blaise out to be a terrible film, it’s not.
The gimmicky angle of having Modesty appear with a different hairstyle in every sequence is clever and enjoyable (my preference is for her as a blonde).
When she is imprisoned in a spiraling colored basement cell and must climb out the roof for help it’s one of the best-looking set designs I’ve ever seen. The creative team gets an A-plus for expressiveness and imagination which is the reason Modesty Blaise is so damned fun.
The cartoonish criminals Gabriel and Clara, played by Dirk Bogarde and Rossella Falk, are deliciously wicked. I was amazed at Gabriel’s towering purple cocktail and craved trying a sip of it to see exactly what he was drinking.
Satisfyingly, both main villains get their comeuppance.
The film is foolish, campy, and a silly time wrapped up in amazing artistry from a creative team who deserves more credit than they probably received.
Modesty Blaise (1966) is a messy film that I enjoyed and found endearing way more than I probably should have. It’s the guiltiest of pleasures in a chest full of sub-par spy comedy films.