Monday, October 25, 2010

'Modesty Blaise' is fun, but not much like source

Modesty Blaise (1966)
Starring: Monica Vitti, Terence Stamp, Clive Revill, Dirk Bogarde, Harry Andrews, Michael Craig, and Rosella Falk
Director: Joseph Losey
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

Adventuress Modesty Blaise (Vitti) and her sidekick Willie Garvin (Stamp) are lured out of semi-retirement by the British government with a promise of a massive payday if they stop an unknown enemy from interfering with a shipment of diamonds promised to an eccentric Middle Eastern leader (Revill) in exchange for "oil considerations." However, the mysterious opponent is Blaise's old enemy Gabriel (Bogarde)--a crime lord who secretly funds his underground empire with his mother's money--and he's not only familiar with all of Blase's tricks, but he's two steps ahead of everyone.

"Modesty Blaise" is one of those movies I wish I could like more than I do, because there is alot to like about it. First of all, it's got a timeless adventure tale at its heart with the Mid-East/West relationship and how the characters interact as relevant today as in 1966; Modesty and Willie's partnership and how they know each other so well they can predict just about everything the other is going to do is fascinating and completely free of the sexual tension that filmmakers usually insist on tossing into a male/female partnership; the villains manage to be creepy and funny at the same time--not to mention they were ripped off for the James Bond flick "Golden Eye"; and every actor featured puts on an excellent performance.

On the downside, there are many things that the filmmakers included intentionally that undermined by enjoyment of the film. The worst of these were elements of absurdity that made served no story purpose and made no sense no matter how you looked at them, such as the way Modesty Blaise would change hair color and clothes in an instant, sometimes as we watched her on screen and the ridiculous costumes they had her dressed in on a couple of occasions. I suspect the filmmakers thought this added to the lighthearted, goofy tone of the film, but it was actually just stupid and nonsensical.

An unintentional weakness is that the film features some of the absolute worst fight scenes ever put on film. Not only are they badly choreographed and lame--your average SCA members or even nine-year-olds used to playing "Cops and Robbers" in the backyard could have done better jobs--and has stunt doubles so badly matched to the main actors that I'll never mock those who appeared in some of Steven Seagal's movies ever again. There simply isn't a single melee fight that even approaches believeable or exciting in this film, and the only reason the big battle at the end works is that it's played for laughs.

I imagine that hardcore fans of the classic "Modesty Blaise" comic strip by Peter O'Donnel and Jim Holdaway were mighty upset with this goofy movie was released. I imagine many of them get upset today. I can understand that a little bit... I have fond memories of reading those strips and in compilations some 25-30 years ago. However, this is a fun movie, no matter how unserious it is. It could have been a great movie--and there are some great things about it that make it worth seeing even 40 years after its initial release--but the filmmakers went overboard on their silliness and ended up weakening their end product.

I think the film is worth seeing, but it's not necessarily one for which you should pass up for something else that looks interesting.


  1. God, this movie...I kind of hated it (a little), just because half the shit going down didn't make one lick of sense. Everything was thrown in at random, based off the rule of cool.

  2. Yeah... I was torn between a 5 rating and a 4 rating, but ultimately decided to be generous because it keep me amused most of the time.