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Modesty Blaise [1966)

Seldom have I seen a more enjoyable film than this jewel staring Monica Vitti.  Entered in the ’66 Cannes film festival, this spoof surely garnered little attention in a world dominated by the French New Wave.  And today it is not easy to write about a film which has been essentially written off.

Modesty (Vitti) is simply wonderful in this sunny film.  Her sidekick is Willie Garvin (Terence Stamp).  Based upon a British comic strip of the same name, Vitti was excellently cast–herself being 5’7″ and Modesty Blaise supposed to be 5’6″.  Though she was about 35 years old when this film was made, she doesn’t seem unduly cast as a late-twenties super-heroine.

Indeed, the comic strip itself predated this first film adaptation by only about three years.  The strip ran 10,183 installments (1963-2001).

Vitti had two years previous appeared in the Antonioni masterpiece The Red Desert.  Indeed, she was integral to his trilogy L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961) and L’Eclisse (1962).  By 1979 she was finally getting around to making her second English-language film An Almost Perfect Pair.  Modesty Blaise is half of her oeuvre in inglese.  Vitti would work with Antonioni one last time in 1981 on The Mystery of Oberwald.  In 1989 Vitti herself would direct the film Secret Scandal, but it would be her last (as of the present time) film appearance.

Our director, Joseph Losey, had helmed Eva in (1962) and in high school had been friends with Nicholas Ray.  Losey suffered extensively because of his investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee.  Being unable to work in the U.S., he eventually made a career for himself in Europe (including The Go-Between [1971] which won the Palme d’Or).

Terence Stamp would follow Modesty Blaise up with the Pasolini film Teorema (1968).  By 1978 he was General Zod in Superman.  He reprised this role in 1980.  Stamp’s career initially got rolling in 1962 when he received an Oscar nomination for his role in Peter Ustinov’s Billy Budd.  Ustinov directed seven other films before dying in the canton of Vaud (Switzerland) in 2004.

Stamp would continue his screen presence in 1994’s The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and in The Limey (1999).  More recently he has appeared in Valkyrie (2008) and The Adjustment Bureau (2011).

And finally, what would our film be without the deliciously evil Dirk Bogarde?  Bogarde had previously acted for Losey in The Servant (1963) and would go on to follow Modesty Blaise with a turn in another Losey film titled Accident (1967).  In 1969 and 1971 he would appear in the Visconti films The Damned and Death In Venice (respectively).  It should be remembered that Losey called upon Bogarde as early as 1954 (The Sleeping Tiger).  For fans of “auteur theory,” let it be noted that Bogarde acted in a film co-written by Andrew Sarris:  Justine (1969).  In the 80s and 90s Bogarde turned to novel writing.

And so:  there you have it.  Modesty Blaise–a strange meeting point for a British comic strip, a gorgeous Italian actress, a blacklisted American director and a couple of British chaps (one eventually earning a Sir to precede his name).  I heartily recommend this film as it is joyful viewing and entertainment all the way through.  The facts are scant.  This is your dossier.

 

-PD

 

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