Monica Vitti: born Maria Luisa Ceciarelli, 3 November 1931, Rome, Italy; died 2 February 2022, Rome, Italy; appeared in one English-language film: Modesty Blaise (1966).
Gaudy ‘Modesty Blaise,’ Girl Secret Agent:Monica Vitti Co-Stars With Dirk Bogarde Imported Farrago Has Flashes of Humor
By Bosley Crowther, New York Times, Aug. 11, 1966
WHAT in blazes “Modesty Blaise” is supposed to be getting at, with all the op art and the comic-strip nonsense Joseph Losey has thrown into it, is something that puzzled this reviewer on first seeing it at the festival in Cannes. And it still puzzles me after seeing it again in one of the several neighborhood houses where it opened yesterday.
Is this slam-bang and splashy account of the efforts of a female secret agent to keep a priceless shipment of gems from falling into the clutches of an elegant sybarite intended to be a full lampoon? Mr. Losey gave it out in Cannes that he thought it might be the film to end all the James Bond kind of films.
But then, Mr. Losey admitted he had seen no more than one half of one Bond film; so how could be possibly have expected to do a take-off? There’s more fun in one good sequence of a Bond picture than there is in the whole of “Modesty Blaise.”
Or perhaps Mr. Losey is intending this farrago of wild adventure bits—of knifings, killings, chases, druggings and poppings-into-beds — to be a loose and spontaneous satire on all the shocking and grotesque kinds of things that are happening in the world every day and being tossed off casually in the news.
It’s a weird film, all right. Maybe, if the whole thing were on a par with some of its flashier and wittier moments, or were up to its pictorial design, which is dazzling, it might be applauded as a first-rate satiric job.
But it isn’t. Nor is it consistent. It jumps between quick and clever gags and stretches of sheer sophomoric clowning.
It is funny — indeed, trenchant — when Monica Vitti as the gaudy heroine pencils the neckline of a dress across her shoulders to provide some cover for her bare torso, or when Dirk Bogarde, as the prissy villain, lies spread-eagled in the sweltering sun crying pitifully for champagne. These little flashes travesty our mores or morals.
But too much of it is just foolish, labored and sometimes painful camp, such as when Mr. Bogarde swishes about with a colored parasol or Miss Vitti tries to imitate a vamp. Since the whole thing is constructed from a popular British comic strip, it may be that all this was loaded upon the scriptwriter, Evan Jones. If so, he did a poor job of sifting it.
And Mr. Losey has done a poor job of getting his actors to achieve a style consistently offbeat, comic and satirically meaningful. Miss Vitti is generally angular and attitudinizes as though she has no notion of humor in her first go at English comedy. Mr. Bogarde is simply brittle, without parody, and Terence Stamp is downright leaden as a Cockney sidekick of the prancing heroine.
Harry Andrews is fairly amusing as a British secret-service type, but Michael Craig overacts his assistant, and Clive Revill is broad and boring as the accountant who is always totaling up Mr. Bogarde’s costs.The scenery, a few op-art settings and a gay, non-chalant musical score are indeed, about the only consistently amusing things about this whacky color film.