The Film (2.5/5)
The British Secret Service is worried that a huge shipment of diamonds is going to be stolen by a famous thief named Gabriel (Dick Bogarde). One of the head chiefs of staff, Gerald (Harry Andrews) decides to recruit the infamous thief and freelancer spy Modesty Blaise (Monica Vitti), to recover the jewels. Modesty is a one tough woman with many connections in the criminal underworld, and with the help of her partner in crime, Willie Garvin (Terence Stamp), plans to take the diamonds for herself.
MODESTY BLAISE(1966) is a movie that has so many great elements but the whole just doesn’t fit together. The spy spoof genre is a very tricky one to handle. Some examples of this subgenre are campy classics like OUR MAN FLINT, while others are hilarious misfires that survive for the curiosity factor like the 1967 spoof CASINO ROYALE (which shares the same cinematographer as this movie). MODESTY sadly fits in the latter category. The absurd comedy works fine, but what makes an effective comedy is balance and respect for the genre. Sadly, the gags and style are here for just absurd humor, while the main plot is forgotten.
MODESTY BLAISE started out as a comic strip by Peter O’Donnell, and while I haven’t read the source material, something horrible wrong happened in the cinematic adaptation. The elements are there but other than face value the movie never really clicks. The picturesque locations give the movie a grand scale. The pop art primary colors feel perfectly copied from a comic book. And the fashion and style are here in spades. The wardrobe itself is something to behold. But fairly quickly the movie became more obsessed with its outlandish humor then trying to deliver as a spy adventure.
The amount of absurd details is impressive including every cup in the movie being cartoonish oversized. Modesty’s constantly changing hairstyle and clothes can hold the record. At one point she actually snaps her fingers and magically changes hair styles. But these details can’t carry the whole movie. The actual action doesn’t start until the 80-mintute mark, and by this time most viewers will likely tune out. Instead of focusing on the plot, we get comic set pieces like a bored Gabriel choosing which lobster to eat. The movie just moves at a snail’s pace. It’s also near two hours in length and feels twice that. Also for a movie where the main character is a super thief, Modesty is terrible at everything and at times too lazy to even add to the plot. Maybe this was the screen writer’s idea of a joke to make a new wave style comedy where it’s anti-spy, but if that’s the case it sadly backfired.
If anything can be positively being said, it’s that the cast is filled with entertaining people. Monica Vitti (L’ECLISSE) handles most of her dialogue well, for her first English language film. She has a great screen presence and the few moments where she can deliver some action is quite good. Terence Stamp (SUPERMAN 2, THE HIT) isn’t even given much to do, and he has a thick comic accent throughout the movie. Dick Bogarde (DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE) has the look for a good spy villain but the direction he is given is too self-aware and goofy. The movie also has a groovy soundtrack by Johnny Dankworth.
MODESTY BLASIE is such a frustrating misfire. Everything is there and looks great, but once you start watching it, it slows to a crawl. It never recovery focus and ultimately just confused me with its attempts at humor.
Audio/ Video (4.5/5)
This Kino Blu-ray has a near perfect presentation of this troublesome movie with only a few minor issues. The English DTS-HD Master Audio track sounds smooth with a well-balanced set of audio levels so that the soundtrack doesn’t over power anything else. There is one section of the movie around the hour and 25-minute mark where the whole track gets muffled for about 3 minutes. The audio drops to a low level and it sounds like the TV speakers are crackling. I tried the disc on two different players, so hopefully I just have a problematic disc and the rest work just fine. Aside from this section the movie sounds wonderful. No subtitles are included.
The 1080p HD transfer is another thing of beauty. The framing of scenes and the eye popping colors all look fantastic. There’s some minor natural looking film grain and the only issue is with the opening credits that just look slightly blurred. As for the colors, all are crystal clear and lovely. Reds, Blues, Purples, Yellows, Pinks, and green pop out of the screen.
Kino has gone all out with this title, giving the movie a handsome number of extras. First up is an audio commentary with film historian David Del Valle and Filmmaker Armand Mastroianni. We then get three interviews starting with 1st assistant director Gavrik Losey, then Screenwriter Evan Jones, and lastly Art director Norman Dorne. All three interview look great with no blinding light or poorly down white balancing. There’s a really neat animated image gallery. Finishing off the package is a trailer gallery with trailers for MODESTY BLAISE, FATHOM, and BOCCACCIO’ 70.
This Kino Blu-ray really is a mixed bag. A bad movie but with some cool extras and a marvelous transfer. If you’re a die-hard spy spoof fan, then of course you need to see this. But for casual viewers you may want to rent the movie on streaming, and then if you like it buy this Blu-ray. Rental first.