From 1958-61, American director Joseph Losey was balancing his British film output with an active second career directing TV and cinema commercials for various films. (Among his colleagues were Karel Reisz, Lindsay Anderson, and the inimitable Richard Lester.) Joseph Janni, the head of Augusta Productions, had worked with Losey in the past, and was aware of the director's fascination with Italian seductress Monica Vitti, and Vitti's own determination to play Peter O'Donnell's comic strip heroine, Modesty Blaise.
Vitti's first English-language film paired her with a stellar British cast, and the obvious satirical nature of the screenplay offered director Losey to have the kind of expressive fun which his Harold Pinter collaborations didn't permit (although Losey would over the years return to the social dramas which established his film career).
Photographed primarily in Holland and Sicily, "Modesty Blaise" is a pioneering example a comic book movie which satirizes its source material, lampooning obvious James Bond conventions, and stylistically extending the visual décor of style-conscious 60s to deliberate high camp. Losey's commercially refined eye went for selected colour and design schemes for each location, with Dirk Bogarde's villainous retreat the most memorable: amid the crumbling brick and mortar of a Sicilian monastery, are intricate op-art patterns inspired by the optical deceptions of Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely - morphing, displaced geometric puzzle pieces designed to strip one's conventional perception of a wall, a room, or a terrace.
The explosive candy and neon colours shimmer in 20th Century Fox's anamorphic DVD, with several of the Sicilian episodes revealing extraordinary detail from the sun-drenched, deep focus shots. An obvious feast for the eyes, it's not hard to see why Losey's stylistic leap influenced subsequent spy entries, and remains a refreshingly baroque treat for fans of the spy spoof genre.
The pseudo-stereo mix, while bit pinched in spots, is adds slight ambience over the original mono mix (also included on the disc), and John Dankworth's pop-jazz music celebrates the film's somewhat organized camp, and the multicolored sleeve is house in a creamy, lime-green keep case.
This disc is part of Fox' spy spoof quartet, which also includes "Our Man Flint," "In Like Flint," and "Fathom."
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan