"A spy spoof loading with comic touches"!
Modesty Blaise was the name of a popular British comic book character that inspired this film of the same name. Supposedly a female precursor to Austin Powers and the female equivalent of James Bond, Miss Modesty is neither. And I could not be more serious about that.
Modesty (Monica Vitti) is wily thief-turned-spy (I think) hired by the government to foil the evil Gabriel (Dirk Bogarde, The Servant), a jewel thief himself. She calls on her longtime partner and ladies' man, Willie Garvin (the always delightful Terence Stamp, The Limey), to help her, but he doesn't come on board until thugs catch her frolicking with an old lover in London. Yet our heroes escape the bad guys and come out on top, literally—Modesty and Willie decide to give the old lovers' thing a go in a bizarre scene involving ice cream and trick cigarettes…and that's not all even the bizarre part. The over-the-top set and costume design—oversized furniture, loud Mod wall designs, frequent hair and costume changes—is to be expected for a film about a chic spy at the height of Mod. No, what's weird is Gabriel's attractive but dominatrix-like assistant, Modesty's French (?) accent, and the fact several boatloads of sheiks help come to her rescue at the end.
Wow, you might be saying, sounds like a goofy, retro romp! What fun! Sorry, buddy. This film is more boring than watching an ant climb up the wall. A very tall, tall, tall wall. If all this stuff came faster and funnier, sure. But director Joseph Losey (also The Servant, Don Giovanni) seems to think this movie is a chore. "Action" scenes of Modesty kicking aside enemies have all the spark and pizzazz of watching Jennifer Love Hewitt think. Dialogue is spacey, cryptic, and deadening. In fact, the whole movie went by without me ever actually quite knowing what was going on—and I restarted it three times. In further fact, if my synopsis is a bit off, forgive me—I guess the surreality (is that a word?) of Modesty Blaise's Pop décor was supposed to bleed into the story, because half the time the staid, lazy and illogical dialogue left me feeling like I was seeing a foreign film instead of one in plain English.
The DVD itself is quite nice. The 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is well done with no distortion and the colors were sharp. There were a few black splotches here and there, but you really had to keep your eyes out for them. Scenes set on Gabriel's island are stunning—clear blue skies, nice definition of the rocky crags and crashing waves. The Dolby Digital Stereo/Mono soundtracks, however, are murky. Guns firing sound like they're coming from the back of a cave; music sounds tinny, as if you're listening to an AM radio station. To say the least these are only halfhearted mixes at best. And extras? Of course not. Of COURSE not. It's too bad, really; just a clip or two or a trailer from any one of the equally brilliant Terence Stamp or Dirk Bogarde's films would have made Modesty Blaise at least SOMEWHAT redeeming.
All in all, folks, I'd give this one a pass. Unless you're really, really drunk, or perhaps you just like watching ants climb up walls. And if it's the latter, well, ya deserve a movie like Modesty Blaise.
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