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Modesty Blaise (1966 fil


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Modesty Blaise

Original film poster by Bob Peak
Directed by Joseph Losey
Screenplay by Evan Jones
Harold Pinter (uncredited)
Story by Peter O’Donnell
Stanley Dubens
Based on Modesty Blaise
by Peter O’Donnell
Jim Holdaway
Produced by Joseph Janni
Starring Monica Vitti
Terence Stamp
Dirk Bogarde
Harry Andrews
Clive Revill
Cinematography Jack Hildyard
Edited by Reginald Beck
Music by Johnny Dankworth
Modesty Blaise Ltd.
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • 5 May 1966 (London premiere)
  • 7 May 1966 (Cannes)
Running time
119 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £1 million[1] or $3 million[2]
Box office $2.2 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[3] or $3 million[4]

Modesty Blaise is a 1966 British spy-fi comedy film directed by Joseph Losey, produced by Joseph Janni, and loosely based on the popular comic strip Modesty Blaise by Peter O’Donnell, who co-wrote the original story upon which Evan Jones and Harold Pinter based their screenplay. It stars Monica Vitti as “Modesty”, opposite Terence Stamp as Willie Garvin and Dirk Bogarde as her nemesis Gabriel. The cast also includes Harry AndrewsMichael CraigAlexander KnoxRossella FalkClive Revill (in a dual role), and Tina Aumont. The film’s music was composed by Johnny Dankworth and the theme song, Modesty, sung by pop duo David and Jonathan. It was Vitti’s first English-speaking role.

The film’s production saw creative clashes between director Losey and Blaise creator O’Donnell over the vision of the final film, Losey wanting to create a “pop art“-inspired spoof of the spy movie craze prevalent at the time, in contrast to the relatively serious and grounded tone of the source material. As a result, the film heavily diverged from O’Donnell’s comics and story outline in many ways, and includes a number of non sequitur elements including avant garde-inspired editing and production design, musical numbers, and deliberate continuity errors.

Modesty Blaise was entered into the Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for a Palme d’Or.[5] General critical reception was far more muted, with critics praising the visual style and off-beat tone, but criticizing the divergences from the source material, convoluted plot, and perceived “style over substance” direction.[6] Critical reception continues to be mixed decades after release,[7] but the film has gained a cult following.


Monica Vitti at the set in Amsterdam, 1966
Interview with Terence Stamp, Monica Vitti and director Joseph Losey

After the assassination of one of their agents in AmsterdamBritish Secret Service chief Sir Gerald Tarrant recruits former criminal mastermind Modesty Blaise to protect a shipment of diamonds en route to Abu Tahir, the Sheikh of a small Middle Eastern kingdom. The shipment has also attracted Gabriel, the head of a criminal organization that includes his accountant McWhirter and bodyguard Mrs. Fothergill. Modesty believes that Gabriel, who maintains a compound in the Mediterranean, is dead, but he reveals himself to her.

In exchange for an exclusive discount on the kingdom’s oil exports, the British government delivers periodic diamond shipments to the Sheikh. Blaise, who enjoys an ongoing love-hate relationship with law enforcement, is recruited not only for her competence, but because she is the Sheikh’s adopted daughter and thus trusted by him implicitly. Modesty agrees to the arrangement, on the condition that she is given total immunity by the British government and complete freedom to deliver the diamonds how she sees fit.

With Sir Gerald monitoring her from afar, Modesty travels to Amsterdam, where she reunites with her former lover Paul Hagen, a Secret Service agent and aide to Sir Gerald. She calls upon her longtime partner, Willie Garvin, who is reuniting with an old flame, Nicole, who may have information on Gabriel through her employer, an illusionist associated with him. Modesty narrowly survives several attempts on her life by Gabriel’s assassins, whose failure leads to their swift execution by the ruthless Mrs. Fothergill. Modesty continually toys with Hagen, first seducing him before stealing his gun and disappearing.

When Gabriel learns that Nicole is working with Modesty and Willie, he orders her assassinated. The illusionist sends thugs to have her killed, and they succeed when Modesty and Willie fail to intervene in time. Modesty and Willie set themselves up as live bait to draw Gabriel out, but find themselves pursued by Tarrant and a jilted Hagen, being briefly arrested before quickly escaping with the help of some smoke bombs. When Modesty attempts to identify and infiltrate the boat being used by Gabriel for the planned diamond theft, she is lured into a trap and captured. Gabriel reveals his true plan, to use Modesty as leverage to force Willie to steal the diamonds for him.

Willie reluctantly agrees to the arrangement, successfully stealing the diamonds from under Tarrant and Hagen’s noses. He and Modesty are subsequently taken to Gabriel’s island fortress, where they are promptly thrown into prison cells. Gabriel offers Modesty to join forces, but she refuses. Willie and Modesty manage to escape and kill Mrs. Fothergill, and signal their location to the Sheikh’s forces. The Sheikh leads his army to the island, leading to an all-out battle with Gabriel’s forces and ending in his capture and the diamonds reaching their intended owner.

In his desert camp, the Sheikh leaves Gabriel tied up outside to dehydrate. McWhirter suddenly appears in Highland dress to free his employer, though no one seems to notice or care. When the Sheikh asks Modesty what he can do for her, she asks for the diamonds. He responds by laughing boisterously and she seems to go along with it, but suddenly breaks the fourth wall by looking directly at the camera as the film ends in a freeze-frame shot.


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