Monday, 15 September 2008

Her Name is Modesty

We haven't had movie night for two weeks due to Heckler's domestic arrangements, and we aren't having it this week, and probably not next week as he's off to Oktoberfest in Munich. Clearly, it's time for me to catch up with all the things I intended to write up and never did.

A week or so ago, I finally sat down and watched all the way through the TV Movie Modesty Blaise adaption My Name is Modesty. If you don't know who Modesty Blaise is, there are two not quite consistent versions - one in a series of novels and one in a comic strip. You can choose which version you want, or both, or neither. Both series began and are set in the sixties. Modesty is a retired criminal mastermind who uses her skills and contacts to defeat actually evil criminals and Bond-style villains.

My Name is Modesty is a Modesty Blaise origin story. It's set before, or as it turns out, as she begins her career as a crime boss of her organisation The Network. She is working as hostess in the casino of the leader of a gang, when her boss is killed and a group of thugs rob the place. Modesty has to keep the leader talking to keep the other casino workers alive, until the combination of the safe arrives; intrigued by her lack of fear he asks for the story of her life.

One problem with the film is that Modesty's origin was always kept in the background of the books. This meant that whenever Modesty needed a new skill or contact, it was revealed that during her time with The Network she'd done a job/deal that involved whatever was necessary. Putting her life story (up to the age of 19?) up on the screen just feels wrong. Another problem is that her partner-in-crime Willy Garvin doesn't appear as he only joins her when she's running The Network. The relationship between Willy and Modesty is one of the things that holds the books together. Lastly, the actress playing Modesty is just too thin; she need to stand up to men not just mentally, but physically as well.

As for what works, well, it feels very much like an episode of a 60s action/adventure where Napoleon Solo, or one of Roger Moore's characters has to keep a villain talking ll night. Interestingly, Modesty doesn't show off her skills at the start of the film. usually in an action film, we see our hero in action near the start (with the promise that they will be even more spectacular in the climax). Although it's revealed that modesty has been taught martial arts, we don't see that until the end. And it's that end scene - with Modesty ripping slits in her long tight skirt for some high kicking action - where she's most the Modesty Blaise I'm looking for.

Is Modesty Blaise Sci-Fi? The author, Peter O'Donnell says no, despite a variety of psychic powers cropping up in the stories (I, Lucifer being the most obvious example). Modesty is very popular in SF circles - I spotted a reference in S M Stirling's Dies The Fire recently.


  1. I note that Heckler may enjoy Modesty Blaise, simply because her name fits into the Blankety Blank theme tune.

    That S M Stirling reference is on page 503 of the paperback edition if anyne is interested

  2. Definitely a huge Modesty fan. There's some good writing there, and the fight scenes are relatively (emphasis) more realistic than usual in adventure fiction.

  3. I liked the movie overall, though agree that the actress was too skinny for Modesty. They also made some mildly annoying adjustments to her history. But there was sufficient squee factor (I was bouncing up and down screaming "Garcia! It's Garcia!" at one point) for fans of the books that I could accept it as yet a third MB canon (along with the books and the comics) without too much trouble. Of course, after the first movie, the floor for acceptability was set pretty low!

    I am still mournful that the Neil Gaiman-scripted I, Lucifer seems to no longer be a live project.

    (And not SF, but speaking of Modesty fans, did you notice the novel making a cameo in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction?)