Modesty Blaise (1966): a female Bond misfire?

17 JULY 2023

JBC rating: **

James Bond Connections (1):

  • Featuring actor Michael Chow (Spectre 4 in You Only Live Twice) as Modesty’s manservant Weng.

The 1966 spy movie Modesty Blaise, an adaptation of Peter O’Donnell’s popular British cartoon strip, was an attempt by 20th Century Fox to create a female-led rival to the EON James Bond franchise. O’Donnell’s Modesty was a former international criminal who, with her platonic partner in crime cockney Londoner Willie Garvin, finds occasional employment with British Intelligence, for whose M-like superior Sir Gerald Tarrant they perform special assignments. Given the 007-flavour of the comic strip, it was inevitable Peter O’Donnell’s creation would be filmed following the James Bond fuelled mid-1960s spy mania. Indeed, there is considerable overlap between both worlds, especially in Modesty’s conception. In his reference work Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2017), crime author and historian Mike Ripley explains how Modesty emerged in 1963 as a potential replacement to the popular Daily Express 007 strip after the latter was abruptly cancelled by newspaper owner Lord Beaverbrook, incensed by Ian Fleming’s decision to sell his new 007 short story ‘The Living Daylights’ to rival newspaper the Sunday Times. The Modesty Blaise strip eventually found publication in the then London Evening Standard and quickly grew in popularity.

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Fathom (1967): Raquel Welch has fun as a female spy

10 JUNE 2023

JBC rating: ***

James Bond Connections (2):

  • Titles by Maurice Binder (Bond title sequence designer, various 1962 – 1989).
  • Screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr (Writer, Never Say Never Again, 1983).

Two years after her near miss at playing Bond girl Domino in Thunderball (1965), American actress Raquel Welch (above) starred as the eponymous hero in Fathom which is essentially a James Bond-style action-adventure movie. Based on Larry Forrester’s unpublished sequel to his spy novel A Girl called Fathom, it seems likely 20th Century Fox hoped to create a female-led alternative Bond series. Another Bond imitator, Modesty Blaise (1966), is also an influence. Both films share scores by The Avengers composer John Dankworth, with each featuring an angelic choir melody for the female hero. However, while Modesty Blaise retains greater cultural significance, Fathom is the more accessible and entertaining film.

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