60’s kitsch can rarely be done better than Modesty Blaise, which I recently saw on American Movie Classics. If you haven’t seen this film, you should: Modesty (portrayed by Italian actress Monica Vitti) uses her Mod-style to bring down the bad guy. In an age where the men were seen to have the fast cars and buxom lovelies, she was one of the few superagents: smart, clever with a quip and an independent spirit. Sure, there is the obvious comparison to James Bond, but I believe there was more to this film than psychodelic colour and go-go boots.

I admit when I first saw this film years ago, I could hardly sit through it as at the time. It just reminded me of Barbarella, and I had had enough of half-naked women and the lack of a strong plot. Somehow, as I got older I began to see the inherent politics and humour in Modesty and its idea of eye candy for the masses. Though she is initally used as a decoy by MI5, she finds a way to turn the tables. That world was simple: the good guys always won and (eventually) the bad guys always lost. In the age before political correctness, it was OK to indulge in a bit of wine now and then; casual sex was the norm. When the diamonds get stolen by Mr. Gabriel (the villain), it is Modesty (and not her assistant Willie Garson) that takes the lead to find them.

In this film, it is purely the women that have control: the superagent is a woman, the villain’s wife runs the show (when not disciplining her “pets”). Well worth killing a few hours with some mates and a box of popcorn. If you pay attention, you can see how it became the blueprint for the women of Charlie’s Angels and Alias: inventive women who allow their male bosses to believe they have the upper hand.

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