MODESTY BLAISE — A LITTLE CAMP FOR THE WEEKEND:Lots of Umbrellas & Monica Vitti

or Joseph Losey the serious director proves you can teach “an old dog new tricks”

Welcome to another edition of Secret Agent Sunday as we tackle one of the most fun films from the Eurospy genre…

It was the early ’60s and spies were catching on in a big way and thanks to the first Bond film-Dr No(1962) smashing box-office numbers and John F Kennedy endorsing the novels it was time. Time for a female version of Bond and in 1963 Peter O’Connell delivered the goods. Modesty Blaise. She provided the perfect escape and became an overnight sensation with tight story lines with lots of action and as a comic strip the visuals to go with it thanks to illustrator Jim Holdaway. Thanks to the success a film treatment was literally around the corner.

Brits and Europe were craving more spies and intrigue. The Avengers were burning up the telly with Emma Peel and here mod outfits.

Above- still apart of our pop culture even today…the go go dancer

Fast cars, go go dancers, mini skirts and boots were also the rage as we hit the mid ’60s and it was the ideal time for Modesty at the cinema.

Modesty Blaise- 1966 from 20th Century Fox _ Above the trailer featuring the theme and soundtrack composed by John Dankworth( Fathom 1967 and the 1st season of The Avengers TV series).

Joseph Losey better known for films like the Servant, had a field day with directing this highly camp outing of the comic and novel character of Modesty Blaise(created by Peter O’Donnell)one of the most iconic figures from British pop culture of the 1960’s but to also become one of Europes’ most beloved literary female characters. A female secret agent/adventurer, she has been translated in several languages. Below cover art in German

Modesty in the comic strips Monica Vitti is spot on image wise .She more than resembles the main character.

Japanese Film poster and for my money whenever it comes to an action movie no one does it better..than Japan. This would have been the main marketing piece if I had been running the campaign for Modesty …

a little bit of Bond and Folkes. Although Folkes hadn’t been done at this point and here’s the nod to The Avengers 60’s TV series if you catch the lower right hand corner of the poster.

Above- Art by Gulacy( Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu)

Losey pulled out the stops for what is really a departure and experiment on his part .. trying new things since Joseph is primarily a serious and if not artsy type of director .. but here he was given a big budget and there was no skimming in that department .. this movie is a blast with its exotic locales and brilliant colors for interiors .. … one must keep looking at the entire scene from one moment to the next . The set designs are eye popping and almost psychedelic similar to Sterankos’ work on Nick Fury Agent of Shield from Marvel Comics 60’s early 70’s series with more nods to Bond and The Avengers 60’s TV series.

Above- You see I wasn’t off in thinking Steranko.

The film itself was being rewritten during production which may show with some of the actors .. but Dirk Bogarde and Rosella Falk are brilliant .. they knew what Losey was trying to achieve..

Bogarde plays a very flamboyant villain named Gabriel who sports a turtle neck shirt and umbrella(a different color every time ) in every scene and very drink he which he is drinking in almost very scene ..the glasses keeping getting bigger and where else might you see a fish in the glass..Dirk who improvised and wrote a lot of his lines — is also an actor who is able to convey an incredible varied amount of emotions just with his eyes and facial expressions and he was clearly having having fun in this movie and Rosella ..is Mrs Fothergill -

a sadomasochist wife and Gabriels’ villainous assistant who at one point displeased with a mimes’ performance/stool pigeon who betrays Gabriel,she crushes his neck in her knees while he cries out silently and then picks him up and disposes of the mime over a cliff.. and revells in chastising the servants and staff who most of the time are half naked men .. now here’s a suggestion ., watch this with a group of friends and try and guess how many umbrellas/turtlenecks/glasses and how big they get and the different colors for the umbrellas and the shirts that Bogarde ends up displaying .. or the crazy hats that keep popping up from time to time on everyone….

Now that’s what I call a drink!!!!!

Below: inspecting the troups…good old Mrs Fothergill-Can you say dominatrix?

The plot is Modesty(Monica Vetti) and Willie Garvin(Terrence Stamp- The Limey) trying to stop Gabriel from possible ruling the world which Gabriel is get his taxes done at the same time ..I mean what master criminal isn’t concerned about taxes ( Clive Reville of Fathom plays a dual role as Modestys’ Arab Prince father and Gabriels’ concerned accountant -which I find is extremely funny and Reville is a great comedic actor ..but also is know for the voice of the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back). ..and the British govt wants Modesty to stop him …

Monica Vitti (born 1933) was perfect for Modesty and gave a fun, bubbly and vibrant performance. Exuding an exotic and sensual take at times. Better known for her work in Italian cinema in the ’60s . Starring in many comedies and rom-coms.

Monica has been awarded on numerous occasions the Italian Golden Globe(7 times), the David di Donatello Award(5) and the Career Golden Globe among others. She retired in 1992. Now at age 88 and battling Alzheimers since 2003. But she will always be to me Modesty Blaise…I wish her and her husband Roberto Russo all the best.

Modesty Blaise — Bluray release from Kino Lorber

Coming in loaded with lots of extras just like a resilent agent has in their “bag of tricks including the trailers for Modesty Blaise plus an animated gallery set to music from the films soundtrack featuring stills, lobby cards and publicity photos from the film. Here’s hoping it will raise some interest and that maybe we will see a Film or TV version or both that is more to the original concept. Now that being said I urge you to seek out this Bluray from Kino Lober(which the quality on the transfer picture and sound is excellent) because you are in for a treat .

Now true Modesty fans may not appreciate the film and the liberties that Losey took with the material ..but hopefully they will come to understand what Losey was trying to accomplish. Especially with the special extras that Kino has packed it this Bluray with including 3 interviews ..one of them featuring Loseys’ son who served as 1st assistant director on the film .

For more insight I highly recommend you watch Modesty with the always informative and exuberant David Del Valle and his friend Filmmaker Armand Mastroianni. David Del Valle states during the audio commentary for fans and the newly interested “curious would be fans” to read the Blaise novels- which I am going to do myself because they are very,very good !!!

I leave you with another version of the Modesty Blaise theme created with images & covers from some of her novel adventures…

So I say check this out and have fun .. this most definitely is a Sunday matinee type of flick to be served with a bowl of pasta or some Virgil root beer and Dutch Snyder pretzels(that was my first experience watching Modesty with my buddies in my early teens and we were left thinking what was that ? This is a nutz film ..visually and still talking about it to this day ..

Next edition of Secret Agent Sunday catch Dirk Bogarde as Agent 8 3/4 aka 1964 Hot Enough in June

So I say “Goodnight Mrs Callabash where ever you are ?”

Available from Kino Lorber :

sold on : Amazon:

also available from : The Modesty Blaise book series from Titan Books

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Chris Nersinger

Chris Nersinger

Was born the same year that DR. NO (1962) premiered. His first movie, viewed at age 3 was MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS(1958).