Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

A Dirk Bogarde double bill...

A movie I have loved for 44 years - and one I saw yesterday ...

Losey's MODESTY BLAISE is one of my key movies of 1966 and remains a very misunderstood movie. It has a cult following and passionate devotees - others cannot stand it or think it is rubbish! That's how cult movies get made folks! Back in 1966 Losey and Bogarde were the new flavour of the month after their critical (if not commercial at the time) successes with THE SERVANT and then KING AND COUNTRY, and the Bond movies were big box office and ripe for spoofing - hence the film of Peter O'Donnell's cult comic strip: the adventures of secret agent Modesty Blaise and her sidekick Willie Garvin as they try to outwit master criminal Gabriel. The movie as designed by Richard McDonald is an op art delight with that mediterranian hideway and Gabriel as super-camp silver-wigged mother-fixated arch-criminal with his dour Scottish accountant (Clive Revill) constantly poring over his ledgers and Mrs Fothergill (Rosella Falk) his sadistic assassin who we see dispatching those who have offended Gabriel.

There are so many choice moments in this riot of mid-'60s glamour and mod fashions: Gabriel unable to decide which lobster for dinner: "decisions, decisions" or enjoying agonising over listening to the conversation of the two pilots whose plane is he about to explode ... The plot is a farrago about a cargo of diamonds Gabriel is going to steal from a ship for which he needs the talents of Willie (Terence Stamp) and the trap they set for him - assisted by dependable regulars Harry Andrews and Michael Craig. After some detours via Amsterdam and some stylish violence the real fun begins as Gabriel traps Modesty in his op art cell and her multi-coloured changes of costume. [Vitti and Stamp are as iconically 60s here as Stamp and Julie Christie the following year in FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD].

The casting of Monica Vitti as Modesty is a masterstroke - the art house goddess of the Antonioni films was an unknown quantity to the mass audience and she had that aura about her. Her comedy skills find a lot of humour in the role though her English sounds as if she learnt it phonetically! Its still a cult favourite after all these years. John Dankworth's score is also spot on and a terrific '60s thriller pastiche. Dirk has great fun as Garbriel - even staked out in the desert at the end crying for "champagne, champagne"! It fits nicely into the Losey canon, as he and Bogarde went on to Pinter's script for ACCIDENT next.

It was made in 1965 for early 1966 release; 20 year old me was among the crowd watching the stars arriving at the premiere in '66 - Vitti didn't show, but Dirk was there with Mrs Fothergill (Rosella Falk) in his arm!.
Rosella Falk and Scilla Gabel with Stamp, Vitti and Bogarde.
Terry and Monica in the recording studio [Photo: Eve Arnold].

Apart from the 'important' movies he was making throughout the '60s Bogarde still turned out routine programmers for the Rank Organisation - we didn't bother much with them at the time (THE PASSWORD IS COURAGE, HOT ENOUGH FOR JUNE, another Doctor film) but its fun catching up with them now, so it was interesting to finally see the 1964 adventure set in '50s war-torn Cyprus THE HIGH BRIGHT SUN yesteday - another of those Ralph Thomas-Betty Box productions that kept Dirk busy during the '50s. This is a routine efficient thriller with Bogarde as the military commander (a part he could play on autopilot but he brings some nice nuances to it) and Susan Strasberg is the American-Cypriot girl who gets into danger by seeing who the guest is of the family friends she is staying with. George Chakiris is the local rebel leader who decides she has to be silenced so she goes on the run and finally she and Bogarde are holed up in an apartment in town as the rebels attack. It plays out nicely with good roles for Denholm Elliott and the likes of Gregoire Aslan. Colin Campbell from THE LEATHER BOYS has a supporting role which you just know won't make it to the final reel ... its the sort of well-made entertainment people went to see at their local cinema on a weekly basis back then. Dirk went on to DARLING next. Bogarde with Vitti (they must have been shooting MODESTY at the time) and Julie Christie at the DARLING premiere, Sept. 1965

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