Vintage Pulp May 5 2022
MODESTY TO A FAULT
Twentieth Century Fox chooses goofs over thrills for Blaise adaptation.


After writing about the first four Modesty Blaise novels over the last few years we figured it was time to talk about Twentieth Century Fox's cinematic pass at character. You see a brilliant poster for the movie adaptation above by Bob Peak, who seems to be reminding people that Robert McGinnis wasn't the only painter capable of working in this style. Two more versions of the poster appear below, and you can another example of his work here.

We'd heard for years that Modesty Blaise is a terrible movie, but it isn't—lightweight might be a better description. It's based on the debut novel, and while author Peter O'Donnell plays it straight apart from the affable relationship between Blaise and her partner Willie Garvin, here in the movie Blaise has a space age apartment, a sentient computer, a huge lobster tattoo on her thigh, an adoptive father, and a referential theme song. The villain, meanwhile, drinks goldfish water, wears a chauffeur's cap, and uses a Japanese pai pai fan. At a couple of points Blaise and Garvin burst into song together. All these touches must have baffled fans of the book, and indeed the additions are pointless in our opinion, but that's cinema. Filmmakers are not transcribers—they're translators, and if you know anything about translation you know it's not done literally.

The main question is whether star Monica Vitti does the legendary main character justice. It was a lot to ask, after Modesty became popular thanks to three years of popular daily comic strips followed by a well received novel. We think she manages fine with the material she's given, but there's the rub. While the screenplay follows the basic thread of the novel, the flow is clunky and the dialogue is cluttered with non-sequitur asides and attempts to be cute that make Vitti resemble Emma Peel from The Avengers rather than the lethal woman O'Donnell created. In terms of the actual story, Modesty is tasked with stopping a master criminal from stealing a cache of diamonds meant for her father (we know, we know—she's an orphan in the books, and it defines her character). She's had dealings with this quirky crook before and would like to settle matters between them permanently. That means traveling from London to Amsterdam to his rocky stronghold on Sicily for a final showdown—in good pumps and a diaphanous haute couture a-line dress.

The action, which is central to the books and written with deadly seriousness, is mostly played for laughs. We mean even to the extent of villains crashing into each other to the accompaniment of circus music. We think this is probably the movie's only unforgivable sin. O'Donnell took pride in his action sequences, underpinning them with ingenious forethought by Blaise and Garvin and violent precision in execution. All the humor and cuteness would have been fine if the movie had thrilled where it most needed to, but no such luck. So in the end what you get is a cutesy spy caper of a type that was all too commonplace during the 1960s, but even goofier than most. We think the movie should have been something fresh and surprising, and in ways that go beyond its glossy high fashion aesthetic. Unfortunately, the final result is no better than watchable, though it becomes progressively more enjoyable the more booze that's ingested. Hit the liquor store before screening it and you'll find out for yourself. Modesty Blaise premiered in London today in 1966.
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Vintage Pulp Feb 15 2010
A MOVEABLE BEAST
You can run from your past, but you can’t hide.

Liliana Cavani’s controversial drama Il portiere di notte, aka The Night Porter, is a landmark of Italian cinema, and another of those seventies films that could never be made today. It involves the sado-masochistic relationship between a concentration camp survivor, played by Charlotte Rampling, and a former camp officer, played by Dirk Bogarde. The camp is eventually liberated, but the Nazi manages to escape the Allies. Postwar he builds a normal-seeming life but must carefully hide his former identity. Meanwhile, the woman builds a normal-seeming marriage, but conceals her psychological scars. In Vienna years later, the woman is shocked to encounter the Nazi again, and soon their destructive codependency is rekindled. The amazing promo poster above uses a frame from the movie’s pivotal scene, a flashback in which Rampling performs a striptease wearing an SS uniform, after which her captor rewards her á la Salomé with the head of a prisoner who has been tormenting her. Il portiere di notte is dark, slow, and deadly serious, but for the true film buff it’s probably a must-see. It was generally well-reviewed upon release, but there were also slams from a few major critics. In the end, you’ll have to make your own decision. Il portiere di notte premiered in West Germany yesterday, 1974. 

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Vintage Pulp May 7 2009
INFERIOR NUMBERS
The 1960s ushered in a wave of James Bond imitators.


Spies with numerical identities proliferated like mad during the ’60s, as studios tried and failed to compete with Sean Connery’s ultracool 007. But even if most of the resulting films were bad, some of the promo art was striking. Here are fifteen great posters featuring various numbered and lettered pretenders to Bond's throne.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
August 13
1995—Mickey Mantle Dies
New York Yankees outfielder Mickey Mantle dies of complications from cancer, after receiving a liver transplant. He was one of the greatest baseball players ever, but he was also an alcoholic and played drunk, hungover, and unprepared. He once said about himself, "Sometimes I think if I had the same body and the same natural ability and someone else's brain, who knows how good a player I might have been."
August 12
1943—Philadelphia Experiment Allegedly Takes Place
The U.S. government is believed by some to have attempted to create a cloak of invisibility around the Navy ship USS Eldridge. The top secret event is known as the Philadelphia Experiment and, according to believers, ultimately leads to the accidental teleportation of an entire vessel.
1953—Soviets Detonate Deliverable Nuke
The Soviet Union detonates a nuclear weapon codenamed Reaktivnyi Dvigatel Stalina, aka Stalin's Jet Engine. In the U.S. the bomb is codenamed Joe 4. It is a small yield fission bomb rather than a multi-stage fusion weapon, but it makes up for its relative weakness by being fully deployable, meaning it can be dropped from a bomber.
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