Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. United Kingdom, 1966. Modesty Blaise Ltd., Twentieth Century-Fox Productions. Screenplay by Evan Jones, based on the comic strip by Peter O’Donnell, Jim Holdaway. Cinematography by Jack Hildyard. Produced by Joseph Janni. Music by John Dankworth. Production Design by Richard Macdonald. Costume Design by Beatrice Dawson. Film Editing by Reginald Beck. Cannes Film Festival 1966.
She’s an ace with a switch blade, she’s undetectable when undercover, and best of all, she can change her hair colour in a flash! Screw Barbarella and her vapid helplessness, Modesty Blaise can handle herself in any situation, and watching her do it in this far-out, groovy sixties spy film is more fun than you can handle. Sort of a female James Bond flick with an emphasis on retro kitsch (even at the time), the film stars the delightful Monica Vitti, more famous for her grave performances in Antonioni movies than for being a comedic starlet, as the lady sleuth who is also known for her clever criminal activity. When the government gets wind that the thousands of dollars in diamonds that they are giving to a Middle Eastern monarch are in danger of being hijacked en route, they feel they have no choice but to hire her services (despite her spotty background) to discover the identity of the possible thief. Doing so means that Modesty will have to bring on board a truckload of clothing (she changes about every five minutes) and have her arsenal of weapons ready, but even without them she’d do fine. She can handle herself in any situation, and she’s ably assisted by a fiery young Terence Stamp as her equally shady sidekick. Dirk Bogarde stars as the dandy villain (and is a riot), and the bubblegum-coloured costumes and sets are to die for. One of director Joseph Losey’s more memorable productions, and a great piece of time-capsule nostalgia.