Vintage Pulp Feb 17 2019
MODESTY BECOMES HER
O'Donnell shows how sex, violence, and style are supposed to be done.


First of all, we recognize that Peter O'Donnell set down his comic strip character Modesty Blaise in book form almost a decade after the Ficklings created Honey West, but we don't think O'Donnell had any advantages. We don't think his way was paved by earlier sexy heroines, or that he was working under fewer constraints because the permissive ’60s were underway. He simply had a better feel for how to titillate readers. But while his 1965 Blaise debut, entitled simply Modesty Blaise, was erotic, it was also carefully plotted, scenically enthralling, and technically convincing. For example, Blaise and her partner Willie Garvin discuss calibres of weapons, preferred approaches to combat, and the logistics of dealing with adversaries in a way that not only feels natural, but lends credibility to what is at its core a preposterous premise.

The premise: Modesty Blaise is an orphan who, abandoned somewhere in the near east, rises from the life of a street urchin to become the biggest crime kingpin in the Mediterranean. She has help along the way, learning how to fight, shoot, organize, roleplay, meditate, dominate men, and generally survive in a brutal world. There's an edge of harsh realism to this fantasy. Her backstory contains two rapes, a gunshot wound, and beatings, but she perseveres to become a feared, almost mythical figure of the criminal underworld, known by name to many but personally only to Garvin, her partner, protector, sounding board, and trainer, who like her is a former street crook.

Modesty Blaise picks up after Blaise and Garvin have retired with a pile of money but are bored. The British government comes calling with a proposal: work for them under minimal management and return to the life that thrilled them, this time on the side of law and order. The government wants Blaise to stop the theft of a pile of diamonds and
prevent a potential international incident. They know a man named Gabriel plans to steal them but they don't know how, where, or when. Blaise and Garvin first work preventatively at a distance, but soon realize the only chance they have is to infiltrate Gabriel's deadly organization and be on hand when the theft is carried out.

In the tradition of James Bond, each Blaise villain tends to employ a particularly unusual henchman, and in this case it's a woman, speculated to be hermaphroditic, definitely sadistic, named Mrs. Fothergill, a martial arts expert and slavering loon. The eventual showdown between Blaise, with her analytical mentality, and Fothergill, who's dense but animalistically clever, doesn't disappoint thanks to O'Donnell's descriptive skills, which allow him paint the action in a step by step way that makes it cinematically easy to picture. He may have picked up this ability from visualizing and writing the Modesty Blaise comic strip, or he may have had it all along. In any case, more writers need the gift.


O'Donnell would write twelve more Blaise books, several of which are—within the constraints of the erotic adventure genre—excellent. When we say erotic we don't mean sex defines the narratives. Blaise is merely a red-blooded beauty in the bloom of youth who happens to be free of inhibitions and possessed of strong appetites. Some of the eroticism is wrapped in action. In The Silver Mistress there's a great climax set beside an underground lake where she evens the odds against a physically superior opponent by stripping and coating herself in slippery cave mud. O'Donnell describes her as he might a creature made of mercury, in constant, fluid motion and silvery in color.

And speaking of visuals, the art on this 1966 Fawcett paperback was painted by Robert McGinnis and was a tie-in to a Twentieth Century Fox film adaptation starring Monica Vitti, whose stylized likeness McGinnis placed on the cover. There's also extra Vitti on the rear. As always, this is great work from McGinnis, a master of his craft. As for O'Donnell's craft, now that we've revisited Blaise and Garvin's debut we'll probably take another look at a few of their other adventurous forays. But this one we can strongly recommend, both on its own and as a superior alternative to Honey West. 
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Femmes Fatales Apr 14 2015
MODESTY MEANS
An itty bitty glimpse of Vitti is almost as good as the whole thing.

It’s not what you reveal, but how you do it. This shot showing about ten percent of actress Monica Vitti is one of the more provocative images we’ve seen of her. It comes from 1966 and was made when she was filming the adventure Modesty Blaise in Italy.

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Vintage Pulp Oct 28 2014
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
La Vie Parisenne offers readers an enticing mix of cinema, illustration and photography.


Above, La Vie Parisienne #202 of October 1967—more than one hundred years into its existence by this point—with an uncredited cover star, and interior photos of Gina Lollobrigida, Dany Carrel, Terry Martine, Jane Fonda, Slovenian actress Sceila Rozin, aka Spela Rozin, and other celebs. There’s also a shot of Talitha Pol from Barbarella, and some of you may remember she married the fast living John Paul Getty, Jr. (he of the kidnapped son, though not Pol’s) and later died of a heroin overdose. You also get some truly excellent ink illustrations by the diverse James Hodges, not to be mistaken for contemporary artist Jim Hodges. James Hodges was a French pin-up artist of the 1960s who also became a magician and illustrated magic books, painted playing cards, and designed stage sets. See more from La Vie Parisienne here.

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Vintage Pulp Jul 3 2014
LADY KILLERS
Sexiness is a warm gun (on a book cover anyway).

This cover of Peter O’Donnell’s Sabre Tooth, part of his popular Modesty Blaise series, shows Italian actress Monica Vitti as the title character, and it got us thinking about all the paperback covers that feature photos of women with guns. Of course, we realize that, as far as the gun-crazed U.S. is concerned, thinking of armed people as enticing or artistic may seem a little tone deaf, but we're talking about book covers, that's all. So we decided to put together a collection. We should mention that the Blaise series is worth reading if you’re looking for something along the lines of light thrills. It’s breezy and sexy as only 1960s spy literature can be, and Blaise herself is an interesting character, born in Greece, raised by a Hungarian scholar, trained in martial arts, and proficient in piracy, theft, and all around sneakiness. In Sabre Tooth she finds herself trying to thwart an invasion of Kuwait by an Afghan warlord. Below we have a dozen more photo covers featuring heat-packing women. As always with these collections, thanks to the original uploaders, most from Flickr, but particularly Muller-Fokker and Existential Ennui.

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Vintage Pulp Jun 15 2011
A MODESTY PROPOSAL
Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise is required reading for fans of pulp.


Above is one of our recent finds, a 1966 French edition from De Noël of British writer Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise, based on his iconic comic strip of the same name. If by chance you aren’t familiar with the character of Modesty Blaise, let’s just say she’s the archetype for every female ass-kicker from Lara Croft to Charlie’s Angels. Her background is too complex to get into in a short post, but the quick version is she began life as an orphan somewhere in the Middle East and rose at a young age to become the head of a vast crime syndicate called the Network. She eventually retired, but sometimes works as a sort of a freelance spy for the British government.

The cover art here is a screen of Italian actress Monica Vitti, who played the lead in a 1966 film adaptation that failed to capture the essence of the character or the scope of her adventures. A 1982 television adaptation didn’t do much better, and a cheapie 2004 effort that was made so the rights wouldn’t revert from the then-owners was monumentally bad. One of those owners was Quentin Tarantino, but he hasn't said if he’ll helm a fresh adaptation. If you haven’t read any Modesty Blaise, we recommend you remedy that immediately. It’s light, but O’Donnell still manages to deliver some thrills along with a healthy dose of eroticism and humor. And in the meantime us Modesty fans will just keep waiting for a film that does the character justice. 

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Femmes Fatales Feb 3 2010
THOSE LIPS, THOSE EYES

Italian actress Monica Vitti, star of several great Michelangelo Antonioni films, as well as one critically slammed English language film, the camp spy thriller Modesty Blaise, shown here circa 1967 in a shot published in the Italian magazine Triunfo

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
May 21
1924—Leopold and Loeb Murder Bobby Franks
Two wealthy University of Chicago students named Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, Jr. murder 14-year-old Bobby Franks, motivated by no other reason than to prove their intellectual superiority by committing a perfect crime. But the duo are caught and sentenced to life in prison. Their crime becomes known as a "thrill killing", and their story later inspires various works of art, including the 1929 play Rope by Patrick Hamilton, and Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film of the same name.
May 20
1916—Rockwell's First Post Cover Appears
The Saturday Evening Post publishes Norman Rockwell's painting "Boy with Baby Carriage", marking the first time his work appears on the cover of that magazine. Rockwell would go to paint many covers for the Post, becoming indelibly linked with the publication. During his long career Rockwell would eventually paint more than four thousand pieces, the vast majority of which are not on public display due to private ownership and destruction by fire.
May 19
1962—Marilyn Monroe Sings to John F. Kennedy
A birthday salute to U.S. President John F. Kennedy takes place at Madison Square Garden, in New York City. The highlight is Marilyn Monroe's breathy rendition of "Happy Birthday," which does more to fuel speculation that the two were sexually involved than any actual evidence.
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