Design I

film 5 of 5

Modesty Blaise

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 26, 2015

Some flops are ill-conceived messes. Some are well-made, but badly promoted, or distributed. They can be ahead of their time, or maybe just victims of bad timing, of a restive audience. They can be an unwelcome subversion of blockbusting, or a jerky biting of the hands that are investing.

Modesty Blaise, however, is a whole ‘nother blithe variation on the big bomb, and it’s a very appealing one. Thanks for the money—now let’s do whatever the hell we want. There’s a nod at the James Bond films, of course, maybe some geo-political spoofing. But mostly this is both wonderfully indulgent and deeply artful. Design, photography, direction are not only extremely well executed and integrated, they’re also practically abstract. What exactly is going on here, narratively speaking? Hawks/Faulkner’s The Big Sleep has nothing on this gleefully incoherent concoction. You’re not sure the perpetrators care very much, either. But their film isn’t scornful or empty. Rather, it’s a terrific example, celebration of straightforward formalism. And, also, a study in fabulousness. It’s a credit to our old friend Monica Vitti, Terence Stamp and Dirk Bogarde that they manage to look engaged and interested, even interesting, while all of that artful is going on simultaneously.