Reviewed by DAVID L. VINEYARD:         


MY NAME IS MODESTY. Miramax, 2004. Alexandra Staden. Raymond Cruz, Fred Pearson, Eugenia Yuan, Nicolaj Coster Waldau. Screenplay by Lee Batchler & Janet Scott Batchler, based on the characters created by Peter O’Donnell and “In the Beginning,” the Modesty Blaise comic strip by Peter O’Donnell & James Holdway. Directed by Scott Spiegel.

   The history of this one isn’t very promising — Quentin Tarantino had acquired the rights to film the character of Modesty Blaise from the comic strip and novels by Peter O’Donnell, and in order to keep them he needed to get something on film. As a result he produced this made for DVD release feature as a sort of prequel to a real film.

   The good news is that it is better than any previous Modesty Blaise film or television appearance, and better than it had to be.

   In fact, for now, it is the definitive Modesty Blaise on screen. The story takes place before Modesty meets Willie Garvin, and before she became the “Mam’zelle,” mistress of the criminal organization known as the Network. This is very much the story of how she came to hold such a position.

   The film is short and the story succinct. Modesty Blaise (Alexandra Staden) is in Tangier working at the casino owned by her criminal mentor, the head of the Network. As the film opens he is planning a major drug deal (despite Modesty’s disapproval) and as a result the vault at the casino is filled with money.

   Myklos, (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau), a charismatic young terrorist with a grudge against her boss, kills him and takes over the casino after closing time taking Modesty and a handful of employees hostage.


   To keep herself and the other hostages alive, Modesty convinces Myklos that they must wait for her bosses second in command (Raymond Cruz from TNT’s The Closer) to return to open the safe, and engages him at the roulette wheel and in a desperate ploy: for every game he wins she will tell another chapter of her life beginning with how she came to be named Modesty Blaise, and for every three in a row she wins he will let a hostage free.

   Thus Modesty reveals the story of her origins as an orphan in war-torn Bosnia (updated from the original post WW II era) and how she met Lodz, the old man who became her teacher and traveling companion. As the suspenseful cat and mouse game proceeds Modesty carefully plays Myklos and reveals her compelling story from how she wandered over Southern Europe and North Africa to how she became involved with the Network after the old man’s death when she was caught stealing in the bazaars of Tangiers by her mentor in crime.

   Done on a small budget and with mostly unknown actors, this shouldn’t work, but ironically those things become virtues, and while Staden is too slight to really capture the Modesty of the comic strip and books, she has the exotic look, Khirghiz eyes, and screen presence to suggest both the complexity and strength of the character, and when at the end she rips off her skirt in the true Modesty style to go into action, the well-choreographed fight could have been story boarded from the panels drawn by artist James Holdway.


   Modesty wins the day, and even offers an ironic thank you to the dead Myklos, who has inadvertently delivered the Network into her hands. She cancels the drug deal, and informs her now second in command that they will deal with the problems that causes when it comes. The film ends as the legend is born.

   There is a nice touch, too, as one of the hostages, the bartender, who has overheard her life story as she recounted it to Myklos to stall him, asks her just how much of what she told them was true.

   With a Giaconda smile she replies: My name is Modesty.

   After the awful Joseph Losey film with Monica Vitti and Terence Stamp as Modesty and Willie, and the misguided television pilot designed to move the characters to California with Ann Turkel miscast, it is nice to finally see a respectful and intelligent adaptation of O’Donnell’s popular cult favorite.

   My Name is Modesty is nothing more than an appetizer, but as such it does what a good appetizer is designed for and whets the appetite for the main course.

   Even if the main course never comes, this remains a faithful and heartfelt tribute to the real thing and the DVD includes a nice making of video, insightful audio commentary by the screenwriters, director, and producer, a video interview with the late Peter O’Donnell on the creation of Modesty, and an illustrated retrospective of all her comic strip adventures replete with detailed synopsis.

   All in all this is a class act all the way, like the lady it celebrates. It is the real Modesty Blaise, and that’s all any of her fans have ever asked for.