Modesty Blaise (TV pilot)

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“Modesty blasé

modestyblaise1982It seems that around every two decades, someone decides it’d be a good idea to adapt Modesty Blaise. First up, in 1966 was a wretchedly camp adaptation, so bad I can’t bring myself to watch it again, starring Monica Vitti and Terence Stamp. In 2003, there was My Name is Modesty, which was a good deal better, but appears to have been a quickie intended to allow Miramax to hang onto their rights to the character. In the middle, dating from 1982, ABC took a shot at creating a TV series inspired by Peter O’Donnell’s anti-heroine, but it never went further than this 50-minute pilot. In it, Modesty (Turkel) and her trusty if no longer Cockney sidekick, Willie Garvin (Van Bergen), rescue a student from an attempted abduction. Turns out, she’s the last piece in activating a cryptographic device, that Debbie DeFarge (Seymour) intends to use to crack the stock-market. Federal intelligence agent Gerald Tarrant (Curtis) requests Modesty’s help to recover the device, so she and Willie head down to Mexico to stop DeFarge’s evil plan.

I think the kindest thing you can say about this is, maybe it made more sense in 1982. This certainly isn’t the Modesty I imagined, one whose history on the streets may be in the past, but is never entirely buried beneath the surface. Turkel is striking enough visually, and I was amused to see her rip open her skirts, the better to fight villains, but she doesn’t have any kind of edge or darkness to her character. That’s somewhat understandable – after all, American network television in the early eighties was hardly renowned for pushing the envelope – but, why bother adopting Modesty Blaise if you want something so utterly bland and neutered? Van Bergen is even more mis-cast: when writing the script for the original film, O’Donnell said he was thinking of Michael Caine as the ideal actor for the role, who is about as far from Van Bergen as imaginable.

After the moderately exciting opening, there is an awful lot of sitting around and chatting, whether it’s in Modesty’s house, or after they’ve been captured by Defarge’s minions (including renowned pro wrestler, Professor Toru Tanaka). The final five minutes sees a brief flurry of activity, as they try to stop the computer from executing Defarge’s buy and sell orders – though the computer in question resembles, in shape and size, a washing machine rather more than anything you’d see in a finance house these days. The cutting-edge technology shown here has not aged well either, with Blaise able to rescue the Western financial world by picking up another phone connected to the same line, thereby disrupting the device’s ability to communicate. Yeah, that degree of planning is not exactly going to get Defarge honored by the Supervillains Academy. Wikipedia claims Sparks wrote the theme song, but that definitely isn’t them on the pilot, and I suspect their version was for a different, unconnected attempt to adapt the show.

Should you be interested, I’ve embedded a video copy of the show below. Not great quality, but I can’t say even watching this on Blu-Ray would make it bearable. Roll on 2021 or so, and the next scheduled adaptation. We know Quentin Tarantino’s a fan, and Neil Gaiman as well, with the latter having written an unmade script based on I, Lucifer. Maybe the fourth time will be the charm.

Dir: Reza Badigi
Star: Ann Turkel, Lewis Van Bergen, Keene Curtis, Carolyn Seymour

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