Modesty Blaise (1966)


Former crime boss Modesty Blaise (Monica Vitti), a secret agent whose hair colour, hair style, and mod clothing change at a snap of her fingers is being used by the British government as a decoy in an effort to thwart a diamond heist.

She is being set up by the feds but is wise to the plot and calls in expert knife-thrower and master of disguise Willie Garvin (Terence Stamp) and a few other friends to outsmart them. Meanwhile, at Gabriel's (Dirk Bogarde) island hideaway in the Mediterranean where his right-hand woman, the Amazonian Mrs. Fothergill, alleviates her boredom by killing people, the diamond thief has his own plans for Blaise and Garvin.

Vital Statistics
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Running time: 119 minutes
Budget: $3 million
Premiere: May 1966 (London, UK)
Box-Office: N/A

Cast & Characters
Modesty Blaise
Monica Vitti
Willie Garvin
Terence Stamp
Dirk Bogarde

Modesty Blaise was a comedic spy-fi motion picture produced in the United Kingdom and released worldwide in 1966. It was loosely based upon the popular comic strip Modesty Blaise by Peter O'Donnell, who wrote the original story and scenario upon which Evan Jones based his screenplay. The film was directed by Joseph Losey with music composed by Johnny Dankworth and the theme song, Modesty, sung by David and Jonathan.

The Bond Connection
The film was released at the height of two cinematic trends: the popularity of James Bond had spawned a number of similarly themed films, and many of these films rather than being serious spy adventures were instead created as parodies of Bond and his genre. Director Joseph Losey and the screenwriters chose to follow the latter approach, by making Modesty Blaise a campy, sometimes surrealistic comedy-adventure.

Above: Monica Vitti and Terence Stamp.

The movie's poster was designed by Bob Peak, who had previously created the illustration for US Cosmopolitan's debut publication of Ian Fleming's short story "Quantum of Solace" in May 1959. Almost twenty years later, Peak also created the poster campaign for "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977).

The original comic strips have been republished in recent years by Titan Books, who also re-release the classic James Bond strips.

Production Notes
O'Donnell's original screenplay went through a large number of rewrites by other people, and he often later complained that the finished movie retained only one line of his original dialogue (O'Donnell states this in some of his introductions to reprints of his comic strip by Titan Books). As a result, although the basic plotline and characters coincide with the comic strip, many changes are made. Some are cosmetic—Vitti appears as a blonde for most of the film (except for one sequence in which she actually dresses up like a real-life version of the comic strip character).

Likewise, Stamp initially appears in a blond wig and subsequently reverts to his natural dark hair colour. Other changes are more profound. For example, as the film progresses Willie and Modesty fall in love and decide to get married (this occurs during a sudden musical production number that erupts during a lull); this breaks a cardinal rule O'Donnell set out when he created the characters that they would never have a romantic relationship. The writer stayed true to this edict to the end of the comic strip in 2001.

There are sequences in the film that coincide with O'Donnell's original story, such as Willie killing a thug in an alley and a few other minor points. The film includes a metafictional element during one sequence where Blaise, while visiting a friend's apartment, comes across several newspapers with the Modesty Blaise comic strip which are shown in close-up. Artist Jim Holdaway's work is prominently shown as is Peter O'Donnell's name.

This is followed by the above-described sequence in which Vitti briefly dresses like the character. Supporters of the film suggest this indicates that the 1966 film is not intended to take place in the same "universe" as the comic strip.

Prior to the release of the film, O'Donnell novelised his version of the screenplay as a novel entitled Modesty Blaise. This book was a critical and sales success, resulting in O'Donnell alternating between writing novels and writing the comic strip for the next 30 years. O'Donnell's version of the screenplay was also used as the basis for a late-1990s Modesty Blaise graphic novel published by DC Comics.

The film itself was a moderate success at the time, and today is generally considered a camp classic, although fans of the Modesty Blaise character remain divided on its merits. Two more serious attempts at adapting the comic strip for the screen occurred in 1982 with a made-for-television pilot film starring Ann Turkel as Blaise, and again in 2003 with "My Name Is Modesty", a prequel starring Alexandra Staden (and omitting the Willie Garvin character entirely).


Above: Japanese poster artwork

Related Articles
Beyond Bond Index