Sunday, January 24, 2016

Modesty Blaise

Fabulous cast, highly regarded director, beloved source material, eye-popping design: What could go wrong?
In the case of Modesty Blaise, apparently a lot, though it's hard to put your finger on exactly what--probably for all of those reasons listed above.
So, we have the sensational Monica Vitti as super-spy Modesty, done up in a succession of stunning mod 60s outfits and wigs. When they put her in the catsuit and dark beehive, she does truly look like the heroine from the comics. Terence Stamp is most appealing as her sidekick; Dirk Bogarde does a fine, queeny turn as the arch-villain--and his pop-art Mediterranean villa is to die for.
If there's anyone I might look askance at in this matter, it's the director: Joseph Losey--better-known for dark psychological dramas such as The Servant and Eva. Modesty Blaise opens with our heroine in her all-white rotating penthouse, on her round bed, getting mercenary assignments and horoscopes (she's a Scorpio) from a houseboy in white tie and tails.... promising enough, but them the theme song kicks in: It sounds like Up With People in tone, if not content, and it presages a movie full of almost and not quite...
Anyway, a Sheik has a bunch of diamonds stolen, Modesty is hired to get them back by a committee of stuffy British tropes. Thus begins the rather silly and pointless plot. Dirk Bogarde chills around his lair with his organist and his lackeys and his dominatrix buddy who tortures mimes, occasionally sending a henchman or two off in an attempt to stop Modesty, who does not seem to be trying all that hard to do anything but look gorgeous and bemused.

There's only one big explosion--right at the opening--and very little in the way of the elaborate schemes and getaways or fancy lethal gadgets usually found in spy movies. We do get some lovely international locales--London, Paris, that fabulous Mediterranean villa--but that and the sensational outfits are about all we have from the high-gloss world of international espionage we all know so well from the movies. But apparently Losey admitted he had seen virtually nothing of the genre he was supposed to be parodying. That is not a good sign.
The movie ends with a romantic duet amidst gunfire and Arabs on jet-skis. It's meant to be exciting and amusing: It winds up being more dull and dumb. Frankly, Monica Vitti kicks more ass as the suicidal perfume heiress in The Scarlet Lady.
There were plenty of spy film spoofs during the 60s--Danger: Diabolik, Casino Royale, Dean Martin's Matt Helm films. None were entirely successful, but they all had their finer points. Mostly, when Modesty Blaise tries to be silly, it simply winds up being stupid. Still, this movie is a nice piece of eye candy and if you put it on in the background with Serge Gainsbourg or Stereo Total on the sound system, it should work quite nicely.

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