Live Bait, Modesty Blaise Strips!
Don K. Barbecue
Blank page staring at me, and moll I see besides in front of me is the cover to the 1966 Fawcett Crest paperback to one of my favorite Modesty Blaise adventures, wherein seen from behind Modesty charms a roomful of lethal rat bastid menfolks into stillness by walking into their room and stripping as if for action to her waist. Which, nude, I SAID knowing the Modster, is just enough time saved for her to waste them!
I first read that pback summer of 1966, which is a few waisted years ago-go. YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE played the Black Diamond in Coletown wayback then, as run by manager Frankie Muldoon, who once gave and a young lady and myself the downstairs lounge to ourselves, in that the door to the joint somehow had a Closed For Repairs sign mysteriously posted. In other words, a certain first love of my life & I had ourselves a THUNDERBALL.
Yeah, they don't make movies like the first few Bonds or women like that anymore. Although I'm not saying if I made like Bond downstairs and the Sabre Tooth cover and got to Nail her. He said, with Modesty.
'66 was also the year 20th Century Fox released the first film version of Modesty Blaise, she having been quite the hit as a newspaper strip in swingin' '60's Britain, where she first blew in like a Gale...
...and found lasting a-Peal.
No doubt about it, no matter how many bad guys and spies creator/ scriptor/author O'Donnell threw at her, Modesty Beatle of 'em..
Thing was, she couldn't get past whatever schtupper-crass twits of the year at 20th decided to camp their Modesty film up, like the studio did to t.v.'s Batman, a move that however popular that year had many a Batfan raising, uh, Kane.
So, even though 20th pulled off the satyr-ikill superspy bit with OUR MAN FLINT and its sequel, the first film version of Modesty B. forever poisoned the well. As can be found, as detailed by patience of a saint Nathaniel Poggiali, over at the Paperback Film Projector blogsite, for which click here. Me, I get a few minutes into that loser of a Losey and, Ms. Vitti “B”-ing Roger Corman's favorite actress or no, Monican't stand it!
Oh, there have been other attempts at capturing our multi-media mistress of mayhem on film, like a certain 70's t.v. movie starring Ann Turkel, warriorette of the wasteland.
Thing had Modesty on a houseboat like John D. Mac's Travis McGee, for some reason. And for many years, as far as filmed Modesty went, that was The Last One Left.
Ah well, least Ms. Turkel got to complete the MB/Roger Corman connection and star in the man's HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP, which in its day had one of the biggest drive-in lines to get in ... like, outta Pummeled Dwarf, PA. to all most Joisey ... I ever saw, as creature featured with PIRANHA. And, since we're talking Temple of Schlock here, that's of fish smell!
Now that I think of it, if Corman liked Ms. Vitti so much, why didn't he ever double-bill her in BLONDES IN BLACK LEATHER with TOO HOT TO HANDLE? And hey, anybody out there got a 1-sheet to that one that's Cheri?
And speaking of black leather, another totally Ms.-guided, but profitable, tactic of selling Modesty Blaise graced many Mod B. book covers from Mysterious Press. . Attractive, certainly, but totally representative of Modesty in character or mostly dressed. Then again, maybe a woman came up with the idea of Sade covers, and some head guy leather.
Howl-ever, lotsa guys look at those book jackets this way, droll, pant, slobber! Or knot.
Sorry, but that Paperback Film Projector article has me thinking about Modesty in a major movie sort of slay.
Last but best of the MB adventures on film so far is Tarantino's MY NAME IS MODESTY, which is fine and moll that. Still, it's mainly a decent version of MB's origin story, then a bit more with the robbing the gambling joint caper, don'tcha casino?
What's that? Oh. Okay. I'll say it again: as to milady in the Black Diamond Theatre down below, she's time lust to me. Not so O'Donnell's creation Modesty. I've read all the novels from Modesty Blaise through, and I do mean through, her last, the final Cobra Trap. Way I hear it, in the American print Modesty meets a worthy end indead. Overseas versions I haven't seen yet, don't know if Garvin, her faithful male companion and adventurer really doesn't save them during their final battle, or does indeed pull them through with yet another act of pure courage and force of Willie.
In fact, been a while since I indulged in any of the various publishers who've handled the MB strip reprints over the years. Lessee, there were scads more before creator Peter O'Donnell's death, and the last one I got was about a returning mammoth, a one fun and funny MB adventure, case yer looking for wild and wooly.
Just creatively typing this I realize how much I miss the Modster, how I oughta try to catch up.
Modesty, who began as rather a female James Bond type, ran strip-wise from 1963 through 2000 through various artistic hands. Book wise, from the self-title Modesty Blaise to Cobra Trap, she stayed contemporary, current, yet all ways a killer with a conscience. Can't say that for, letch see, The Lady From L.U.S.T., huh? Nah, the race wasn't Eve-in close. No contest, either, who was probably the bedher Kiss My Assassin.
Same goes for the Baroness, “international playgirl and crack American superspy,” whom, I gotta admit, I once had a Dr. Thing for.
Ditto the comely Commander Amanda, in whose adventures I used to Revel-li.
Hecate, even the ever-lovely as played as Anne Francis Honey West, who began as a private dickette, went out as some kinda snoop her thigh, I SAID superspy. Butt, that's another Honey on Her Tail to bee discuss --
Wait, what's that buzzing sound from behind me. I turn, eyes following the sound, where there seems to be a white, rounded thing starting to come up through the flooring and EEEEK!-merge.
I dial 9 1 and then BONK! I catch a shout of “Incoming!” as something hits me on the haid. I see that dome-ish, shaggy top now has a white, disembodied arm near it, likewise sticking up from the carpet. I gape. The thing's hand points floorward. Like, behind me. I gaze there, to see this green-covered trade paperback, that obviously has literally floored my framed Italian movie poster to the '66 Modesty off-kilter and Losey.
What thuh? So what knocked my poster down? Why, it's a big book, green cover, back cover promising “Unknown Pleasures!” And instantly I'm back down in the depths at the Black Diamond, like, all of a sodden!
Wait. Calm down. Can that gal on the artwork be ...? Naw, but those lips, those eyes, all that face that survived so many hair-raising episodes of daring and danger! Yes, it is! It's Modesty, moll right, in something new called Live Bait, which ...
A voice from behind calls, “Hey, gimme a fratzen kratzen hand here already!”
Oh friggin' no. Last time I heard that voice he was riding off with Pyrrholoxia Shamelady in a Jules Verne-type airship in the skies. I snort. I haven't met his “Pyrry” ... sometimes “Purry” ... yet, but any gal hanging with him should instead be in disguise!
So I turn again, to see that white arm flapping out of the floor, voice below yelling “Hey, I need another hand here, can ya friggin' digit, ya idjit?”
Yup. It's my ever-mysterious, never distant enough relative. My one and only uncle, supposed superspy kinda guy. Member of something called “Master Assassins & Nukers of International Criminals.” You got it, he's my Unk from MANIC.
“So, Unk, whatcha doing with one arm and part of yer ugly dome sticking outta the floor like some evil spirit in a Dr. Strange comic book?”
“C'mon, kid, pull. I'm in a fix here. Said something to Pyrry that comparing her to Modesty Blaise, I'd sell her to Afghan slavers with 3-humped camels who'd tie her over those humps length-wise.”
Once I stop laughing I finally ask, “So, what did Pyrry say?”
I hear a chaw of spit hit the basement floor. “Hah! She said that was, I quote, 'the best offer from yer sorry self I heard all day.' Then she said 'Next time you tell a gal you'll sell her, make sure you know how to spell 'cellar.'”
Okay, he gives me a lil more time to quit chortling. I calm myself. “Alright, I'm done. Cool ghoul tech thing you got going here, though. Here,” I reach out, “lemme give ya a hand.”
Moments later Unk's himself, fully solid, no longer too transparent. “Hey, Unk,” I surmise as he begins raiding the fridge,” yer almost fully visi-bull!”
Unk meantime finds the world's oldest bag of CheezWaffies. I mean, who besides my Unk refrigerates Cheez Waffies? Man's completely snack attacky.
Having achieved nourishment Nirvana, Unk plunks himself on the sofa, rips open the bag and starts divan in. “Broughtcha a l present from our friends at Titan Books.”
“Ah, the people at Hard Case Crime. They got the Modster, huh?”
“Yeah. I recall when I first gave ya the hardback first Modesty, the one you see Travolta with in PULP FICTION in the John.”
“For which you have my eternal thanks. Not to say there wasn't some stuff I hadda consign to the septic tanks. Like Sam Durrell, wasted Edwards prove to Aarons.”
“No account for taste. You'll like the Modesty book. Three adventures. I particularly enjoyed 'Samantha & The Cherub,' a kidnap caper where Garvin gets to play a women's rights protester who yells 'Down with the bikini!'” Unk burps, makes motions you can imagine, dear or leer reader. “Now that's the type of organization I could really get behind.”
Nope, I won't even arse-k. Unk holds forth. “See, there's this kidnap by Brit bikers thing going down, and Modesty and Garvin recruit a gang of young ... like, kids ... to follow the nasty types incognito, like who notices kids, right? Worked for the Baker Street Irregulars, huh?” He winks. “Another series I got you into, copies of which from my shelves went to yers like magic to yer hearth and Holmes.”
“Huh. And here I thought they appeared by Sheer Luck."
“Uh huh. Anyway, the kid gang's cute as the Dickens.”
“Sorry, I more lean to horror and Micawber.”
Unk ignores me. “Just ask Pyrry, I'm not in Poe's tent.” I keep a blank face. “That's a joke, kid! Never mind. Now all these stories here got three things in common.”
“Like,” I say, “the camels.”
Unk gives me his oh for an Uzi look. “These three tales have two things in common. One, art by Enric Badia Romero. Two, they're all kidnap stories. Like, ya gotta figure, 'Life Bait' itself."
“Yeah,” I add, “the titular tale.”
Unk does his Beavis and Butthead: “He said titular. Uh huh huh. AND,” he spells it, “T A I L!”
“Yeah. Thanks to you my lit'ry range is thighed and bra'ed.”
I get ignored. 'Salright, I don't often get to hear Unk make with even half-way serious criticism of items he wings me with. “So how's story number three go with the, uh, udder set?”
Gotta keep things on Unk's level. Meaning, this case, he might rise himself. Which he does.
“Been saving it. Willie and Modesty get involved in the highest Andes, where a gang works with local priests to find village girls for the fortified villains to star in a certain evilest of them all entertainment venture. Meaning filmed sex and death films.”
I gulp distastefully. “Meaning --?”
“Yeah, kid. The, uh, r-e-a-l steada r-e-e-l thing.” Unk halts, makes a face. “ Whoa. I think I just disgusted myself. Anyway, for us the readers it's all, uh, out of sight and, um ... “
I help him out. “Unseen and un-screamed?”
“Yeah,” he admits. “How'd you know?”
I shrug. “Saw the Findlay horror flick once. Long on exploy fakery, short on good effects. Once was a-Snuff.”
“Yeah, I'll bet. Okay, in this story called 'Milord,' as in 'master,' on, while Modesty's getting a glimmer of what's going on, an incidental to the story character gets warned by another not to easily dis Modesty, she's the most dangerous woman in the world.”
“And she hates violence against women and children ... “
“Having been a refugee of war as a child herself, and the head of her own criminal network." Unk laughs. “No, she's not a prissy protester with whom to Ms.”
“Yer saying 'Down with the bikini!' isn't a slogan she'd go fur?”
Like I said, down to Unk's usual level. He's not usually like this. I wonder why.
Again he rises. As in, this time he really gets up, paces, looks steamed. I've known for ages of pages now years that Unk has a soft side. Sure, or he wouldn't be always running down the scum of the earth anywhere on Earth.
This moment, the man's staring out the window. Motionless. He doesn't even duck and sling any grenades when he sees a Charles Chips truck roll by. Right now, I don't think Unk would care if it was a Cheez Waffies convoy, the truck.
I wait. Puzzled. Giving him space.
He stays facing away as he gives his shoulders a, like I said, rise. His hands fly to his gun belt like Quicksilver on speed, as I hear him say the words “They've got who?”
Ah no, he's listening to his MANIC masters on ear piece or something. Whatever, he's got it covert covered.
Unk seems merely irritated until he goes “Ah, no!” Then “When, where?” Followed by "Okay, we don't know either one.” After which his voice goes Artick-ed off, “YET!”
Silence a sec. I know what's coming, even before he sez it. “And their deadline's when again?” A pause. “Kinda close.” Pause again. “I'm outta here in a shake and on the fly. Round up the gang with any and moll Modesty. Got it? I repeat, any and moll Modesty.”
He's hardly said “Over, out!” before he spins at me and ... starts to fade again and agun, get transparent. Okay, make that trans-Unkle.
“Son,” he calls me, and I'm not his son, so I know things are bad. “Son, I gotta fly. They got Pyrry.”
“The slavers?” I stammer.
Unk snorts. “Nah. HQ sez she'd already got them all, behind a local drone, uh, dairy bar.” He spits, hitting my luckily framed MB sheet. Times like this, what can ya expectorate?
“So, kid,” he sez, back with the “kid” stuff now. “Gotta fly. While I'm gone, fix that frame Modesty doesn't look like such a pane in the glass.”
Then I see, can it be, the start of a tear in his eye. That's right, since he only has one, uh, left. When asked, he always sez the price of another one's too “ex-orb-itant.”
And then he disappears, disembodied like that ghost of earlier, wisping this time through the ceiling up, up and away and a'ready to slay. Reason I think so, I swear I hear him issue an order of “Okay, open dossiers to 'Mission Make Like Modesty.' Yeah, yeah, they took the Live Bait. Let's give those expletive depleted bastids the Blaises!”
His voice suddenly softens as his words rain down on me. “Enjoy the book, kid! Try to have it finished for the next one time I get back, with Pyrry alive and whole locks of her!”
Hey, ya know what, even as I pick up the latest Modesty book and Unk rises ever upward to vanish in the highest of clouds, on that promise I take him real cirrusly.
And from damsels in distress danger my Unk will never flee,cy!
Murderous mean time, readers of this web .... of intrigue ... site could do well to check out Titan Books' reprinting of Donald Hamilton's straight as a bullet spy guy Matt Helm. When it comes to thrilling espionage done nasty and lethal, the Helm books in their time were top of the heaps of espionage thrillers done deadly. Anybody sez different, Eric'd 'em to me. And trust me, even if you disagree, I won't send Unk to give ya a wreckin' cruisin' of a bruisin.
Columbia managed to have a high-ho! old time with a series of four madcap movies with Dean Martin at the Helm. Schlocksters could Double-Oh-doo-doo worse than checking out Temple fave'rite Stella Stevens' delightful comedic flair in the Helm film THE SILENCERS. And why not, she wouldn't have unlanded her role in THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE without being a reel deep sinker!
Oh, and Pyrrholoxia Shamelady, who oftimes leans bold drool, I SAID old school, sez check out Titan's run of Helen MacInnes' now period piece thrillers. Not Temple material, but compared to, say, The 39 Steps, the ole gal's worth more than a Buchan fear, and can really gun barrel along when the villains are especially mean and Nazi. When it comes to tales of tension filled with her own certain kind of what Unk calls 'romansk' and suspense, Grand Mistress of Mystery MacInnes is, like one of her own book titles...