Willie Garvin wrote:
Hmmm...John Dall--now there's a name from the past.From today's actors?I'd go with Josh Brolin.
As I understand it , the strip is an original re-print from the 1960s, I didnt keep Friday's gumph and I havent bought a Standard this week, but I thought it was called something like "La Romance". I could be wrong about this, ive been working funny shifts and my memory is going a bit hazy.
Any ideas Willie?
last night at Cinema Potts:
My Name Is Modesty, 2004
directed by Scott Spiegel, who I've never heard of
starring Alexandra Staden, who I've never heard of
"presented" by Quentin Tarantino , no idea what that means but we know Tarantino is a Modesty Blaise fan and his name sells films.
I'm not sure how involved Peter O'Donnell was.
a short 75 minute film that may or may not tell the origin story of Modesty Blaise.
We meet Modesty as a beautiful but ice-cold teenager working as the dealer at a casino in Tangier, effortlessly conning the marks out of their money. After all the customers have left, the casino is invaded by armed gunmen who take the employees hostage and demand access to the vault. The leader is a trigger happy psycho, who has already murdered the owner, bragging he died begging for his life, and then kills one employee just to show how serious he is. Modesty takes control to inform him that was the one man who knew the combination, but she can make a phone call and bring someone else who does, except it will take hours for this other person to arrive. The psycho is fascinated by Modesty's fearlessness, so to fill the time til the other arrives the two play roulette: if she wins he lets the other hostages go, if he wins she tells her life story. As wikipedia correctly notes, this thus becomes a Scheherezade type story structure, as she hypnotizes her opponent with narrative.
Flashbacks then begin showing a savage young girl surviving alone in refugee camps of eastern Europe. The child befriends an older man who turns out to be a travelling scholar, who becomes her mentor, and the two spend the next decade trekking from India to Morocco, while he teaches her to read and speak a dozen languages as well as martial arts and other skills both survival and civilized. I recalled the refugee camps from the books, but a quick check of wikipedia shows most of this flashback content was indeed canonical, revealed in The Xanadu Talisman, including her choosing her own name based on Arthurian legend.
The film is long on dialog, and we finally get to see Modesty demonstrate those hand to hand combat skills in the last five minutes. Psycho villain meets a visually satisfying end, then we see the surviving hostages accept Modesty as their new boss who they will follow anywhere, the formation of Modesty's gang. All us James Bond fans oughta appreciate an origin story set in a casino.
The title turns out to be the answer to a question asked at the end...
what part of that story was real?
This all plays out like the pilot to an unsold teevee series, although the ending still leaves us several years before the first book began. Despite being dialog heavy and made by unknowns, it's miles better than the crappy 1960s movie and seems consistent with what O'Donnell wrote, so definitely worth looking for.
in honour of the recent death of Monica Vitti (November 3 1931 – February 2 2022) I watched the 1966 Modesty Blaise film for the first time in a few years. Last time I tried I gave up partway through as it is so silly, but have seen it in full at least once before that. And having watched many other silly spy-spoofs of the era in recent months, it is better than I had remembered.
(note on other recent Modesty discussions: Fellow agent Number24 already posted a film report in the general Film Reviews thread, and there has also been recent discussion of the book covers in CoolHandBond's Book Covers thread)
I believe this movie does follow the general plot structure of O'Donnell's first novel. Closer than Casino Royale or You Only Live Twice certainly. O'Donnell wrote a proposed plot, inspired by his own comic strip, which he then novelised. Meanwhile the filmmakers rewrote what he had written. Harold Pinter is one of the uncredited screenwriters who turned O'Donnell's plot into what we see here. The same year Pinter wrote the screenplay for the Quiller Memorandum, one of the more serious films to come out at the height of SpyMania! Watch that one first, as its really good!
A big part of the problem is the characters are nothing like what O'Donnell wrote, at least the recurring good guys who we know so well from the 13 books. Vitti is blonde throughout the movie (sporting dark hair for exactly one quick scene I think), a superficial change but emblematic of how totally wrong her entire performance is. Husky voiced, crude, shallow, greedy, amoral, trampish and easily fooled. We see nothing of how civilised O'Donnell's character was, loyal to her friends and charming to all who meet her. This version is a barely reformed criminal who cannot be trusted by the Secret Service who try to employ her.
Willie Garvin is played by young Terrence Stamp, talking like Burt the chimney sweep. In the books Garvin keeps the cockney accent as a stubborn affectation despite being fluent in dozens of languages. Here he is a damn fool, always busy shagging a bird when Modesty calls him on the phone for help and contributing little else except for the knife fight scene.
by the end Modesty and Willie will have twice sung a duet, realising they have been in love with each other all along and when this caper is over shall genuinely retire to marry and lead a quiet conventional life. So our two heroes are most definitely Modesty and Willie in name only.
Sir Gerald Tarrant is played by Harry Andrews, who I watched recently alongside Sean Connery in The Hill (1965) (another good film you should prioritise ahead of this one) where he played the stubborn argumentative prison commander. I liked his performance in this film: the man has an immense jaw that seems to orbit independently of his skull, an effect accentuated by the huge cigars he always smokes. His version of Tarrant is also nothing like O'Donnell's. This Tarrant is also crude (hey all three good guys are played as crude!), cynical and manipulative, not trusting Modesty at all to carry out the mission he has talked her into, but believing she is his patsy in a bigger plan he does not share with her.
What about the villains? Dick Bogarde is the big baddy Gabriel. I recently watched Bogarde in early SpyMania entry Hot Enough for June (1964) (a competent enough film film you might also want to watch instead of this one) where he played an aspiring author turned unwitting spy, and completely different than how he plays the villain here. As Gabriel he is playing it as an old school swish gay stereotype, all mincing and purring and whining. I can't remember if this is what O'Donnell wrote, but my thought watching him in every scene is villains are meant to be deviants, thus the filmmakers are revealing they believe homosexuals are deviants, and therefor evildoers who must be eliminated. Anyway, I like a hammy scenery chewing villain, and Bogarde certainly gives us all that and more, so I try to overlook the barely implicit homophobia.
The subsidiary villains Mrs Fothergill and the Scottish accountant are as I remember from the book. Fothergill is played by Rossella Falk and is actually quite awesome, an evolution from our own Fiona Volpe and similar to Janet Leigh's Miss Diketon character in the Man From UNCLE: The Spy in the Green Hat (also 1966, I wonder which came first?). She delights in torture, and leads Gabriel's pretty boy minions to her bedroom while Gabriel is still speechifying about his evil plans. Modesty and Fothergill have a spectacular catfight towards the end of the film, and Fothergill goes out in style.
This movie is best appreciated by forgetting all you know about Peter O'Donnell's characters. I think the expectations from loyal fans is an impediment. Just accept the experience we are given on its own terms and what do we have?
Well it's very silly, but no sillier than a lot of the spyspoofs from the era. And though I could not follow the plot (something about diamonds?) it seemed more coherent than most, made for a decent budget. Certainly funnier and more coherent than our own Casino Royale, with which it is often compared. And some of the gags are quite good.
Best of all is the visuals and the film should be viewed as primarily a psychedelic visual spectacular (I almost wrote spychedelic! that could be new sub-genre!). Every scene is brightly coloured and oddly angled, with outrageously decorated interiors. The villain's lair is all done in Op-Art wallpaper, every room a violently clashing pattern, and Gabriel has the oddest foods and drinks at his dinner table.
Outdoor locations are magnificent, the first half set in the streets of Amsterdam, all canals and narrow stone buildings, what a civilised city! At one point Modesty evades a pursuer by hiding in plain sight in a RedLight District storefront, having made a Bugs Bunny quick costume change, with confused prostitute and client behind her. A scene or two later there is a suspenseful murder in the midst of a Calliope contest culminating in a knife fight, the action highlight of the film (why do we not see more knife fights in movies? the injuries are horrific but the odds must be fairer than a gunfight)
Second half takes place in and around the villain's headquarters near Naples, all ancient sun bleached stone surfaces. It is a very good villain's headquarters. Tarrant arrives by rowboat, making Bond and Q's latter-day arrival by hot air balloon seem almost sensible in comparison.
Music is decent, a catchy midsixties pop toon as the theme. Modesty and Willie's duets are annoying, but add to the surrealism (though I actually think O'Donnell's funloving, cultured characters would sing duets during breaks in the action, just not this one). At one point Modesty breaks into an apartment and finds a real world Modesty Blaise comic book (woah, metafiction) but also two recent Miles Davis albums beside a turntable, very tasteful. (My Funny Valentine and one other I cant identify)
I thought of who should make Modesty Blaise today, and here is a suggestion. What do you think?
It should be set in the 60s, maybe as a big-budget TV series.
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Modesty - Kaya Scudelario
Willy Garvin - Alex Pettifer
Sir Gerald Tarrant - Timothy Dalton