Modesty Blaise

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Modesty Blaise, directed by exiled American Joseph Losey in 1966, is a lesson for creative people of all types.

To create great work every project needs control and direction, otherwise the drive and objectives become confused and in trying to please everyone you please no one at all. As a filmmaker and as an artist you can’t be all things to everyone.

A James Bond parody must have seemed like a great financial, if not creative, idea in 1966 in the wake of the worldwide success of Sean Connery in Goldfinger. Here Modesty Blaise is a female James Bond with the added attraction that Monica Vitti’s version of the character is obviously Italian and, although pretending to work for the British government, she treats their bowler-hat and pinstripe-wearing representatives with more than a little good-natured derision.

This version of Modesty Blaise shows us you can have a well-respected director and two European actors Monica Vitti and Terence Stamp at the top of their game and you can still end up with a commercial and creative failure.

This version of Modesty Blaise shows us you can have a well-respected director and two European actors Monica Vitti and Terence Stamp at the top of their game and you can still end up with a commercial and creative failure.

If you lose control of the elements you lose control of the direction of your work. This is where the makers of this film fail to learn the lesson of Godard’s writer in Le Mépris – if you create and work purely for money then your work, and possibly your close relationships too, are likely to suffer and decline.

At one point in Amsterdam the film gets metafictional when Vitti’s Blaise comes across several newspapers with the Modesty Blaise comic strip shown in close-up. If this tone had been consistent throughout and the camp Bond parody elements reduced, there could have been so much more to enjoy here.

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However Modesty Blaise remains a 60’s camp classic and for her outfits, if not for the depth of performance she was allowed to give, Monica Vitti became an even greater icon.

Modesty Blaise the movie is a great might-have-been. But fortunately TV viewers at the time will have had Diana Rigg as Emma Peel in the Avengers to show them how it should be done.

You need control, direction and a level of consistency to create work that lasts long in the memory. And these are exactly what are lacking in this sadly dated film. It’s the film equivalent of the Monkees to 007’s Beatles. Let’s hope Guy Ritchie isn’t planning a remake.

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Our Rating

6

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