Modesty Blaise (1966)
Cast & Characters
Former crime boss Modesty Blaise (Monica Vitti), a secret
agent whose hair colour, hair style, and mod clothing change
at a snap of
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
Meanwhile, at Gabriel's (Dirk Bogarde) island hideaway
in the Mediterranean where his right-hand woman, the Amazonian
alleviates her boredom by
killing people, the diamond
thief has his own plans for Blaise and Garvin.
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Running time: 119 minutes
Budget: $3 million
Premiere: May 1966 (London, UK)
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
Above: Monica Vitti and Terence Stamp. |
The movie's poster was
designed by Bob Peak, who had previously created the illustration
Cosmopolitan's debut publication of Ian Fleming's short
of Solace" in May 1959. Almost
twenty years later, Peak also created the poster campaign
for "The Spy Who Loved
The original comic strips have been republished
in recent years by Titan Books, who also re-release the
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
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
Beyond Bond Index