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Leslie H. Martinson
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Modesty Blaise, a secret agent whose hair color, hair style, and mod clothing change at a snap of her fingers is being 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 sidekick Willie Garvin and a few other friends to outsmart them. Meanwhile, at his island hideaway, Gabriel, the diamond thief has his own plans for Blaise and Garvin. Written by
Dean Harris <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Truth be told, I hated this movie on first viewing many years ago and, in fact, I only just now purchased the utterly bare-bones Fox DVD for three reasons: the disc is now out-of-print; I found it very cheaply (surprisingly) at a local retailer; and, most importantly perhaps, I was prepared to give it another chance thanks to my ongoing (and very rewarding) Losey-thon.
To say that Joseph Losey was a strange choice to helm this picture would be a massive understatement. In his previous films, very rarely (if at all) had he shown that he had any sense of humor, much less the kind of campy, knowing and irreverent one essential for successful comic strip adaptations. As it happens, the film was not well-received and both leads - Monica Vitti (who apparently phoned Michelangelo Antonioni everyday during the shoot) and Terence Stamp - were unhappy making it; there are those who even go so far as to consider it not just Losey's nadir but quite simply one of the worst films ever made! Well, based on that first TV viewing of it, I probably would have endorsed such sentiments myself...
However, my re-acquaintance with it proved something of a minor revelation: while still as uneven as I recalled, I couldn't now deny that there were some delightful elements which, on the whole, made the film palatable and, at times, even endearing: Evan Jones' script was occasionally quite witty, Losey's own trademark odd compositions (usually so overpowering in his melodramas) suited the "anything goes" mood of the material, Jack Hildyard's glossy cinematography of attractive Mediterranean locations, outrageous outfits and groovy production design was top-notch and Losey's frequent composer Johnny Dankworth provided an infectious score.
And what about that cast? Monica Vitti (who would have guessed that she could ever be as attractive and sexy as this judging by her work for Antonioni?), Terence Stamp (gleefully throwing knives, bedding women and engaging in a charming, impromptu singing duet with Vitti while driving up a mountaintop and reprising it for the action-packed finale), Dirk Bogarde (ironically named Gabriel, he was never campier - or gayer - than as the silver-wigged, self-proclaimed "villain of the piece"), Michael Craig (as Vitti's ex-lover and pursuing British agent), Harry Andrews (as a top British Secret Service official firing away bullets from his umbrella), Alexander Knox (as a bumbling British MP forever mispronouncing names and giving out the wrong information), Clive Revill (for no apparent reason in a dual role: as Bogarde's right-hand man who keeps the accounts even on the field of battle and as Vitti's "father", an Arabian Sheik!), Rossella Falk (as the lethal Miss. Fothergill, Bogarde's manly assistant, who keeps a regiment of mostly aging men in shape through arduous physical exercise), Saro Urzi (as a lowly, opera-singing henchman of Bogarde's), Tina Aumont (as an ill-fated conquest/informer of Stamp's) and real-life magician Silvan (as a duplicitous circus performer).
Ultimately, while the plot is too convoluted to follow at times and the film itself may not be in the same league as Mario Bava's DANGER: DIABOLIK (1968) or even Roger Vadim's BARBARELLA (1968), it's certainly an engaging spy spoof and far better than its reputation suggests.
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