Feb 25, 2010

R.I.P. Johnny Dankworth

I'd missed this, but Modesty Blaise News reports that composer Johnny Dankworth passed away earlier this month at the age of 82. Dankworth (more respectably known in later years as Sir John Dankworth) composed several key spy scores in the 1960s.  I'll always think of him first and foremost as the composer of the quite quite fantastic Cathy Gale-era Avengers theme.  (Does anyone know a CD with a good version of this theme?  All I ever find is Laurie Johnson's later, Emma Peel-era theme.)  Most of his Sixties spy music accompanied the judo kicks of strong female secret agents; besides Honor Blackman's Cathy Gale he wrote the scores for Monica Vitti's Modesty Blaise and Raquel Welch's Fathom.  (In descending order of "strong.")  His Modesty Blaise score in particular is a masterpiece, featuring what might be the most infectious of all spy theme songs and easily on par with Burt Bacharach's 1967 Casino Royale score in terms of over-the-top, wacky espionage hijinks.  Dankworth's scores for both Modesty Blaise and Fathom are available on CD from the Harkit label; Fathom only just came out last December (as reported with additional information here).  Dankworth's other significant contribution to Sixties spy music was his score for the Peter Lawford/Sammy Davis, Jr. vehicle Salt and Pepper.  He also worked with Modesty Blaise director Joseph Losey and star Dirk Bogarde on The Servant and Accident, and with Bogarde again scoring John Schlessinger's outstanding Darling.  Other notable Dankworth scores of the Sixties include Morgan and the Michael Caine movie The Magus.  After pursuing other interests for a few decades, Dankworth returned to film scoring in 2000 to lend a suitably Sixties vibe to the British gangster movies Kiss Kiss (Bang Bang) and Gangster No. 1.  I have no doubt that Dankworth will live on forever, because the theme song for Modesty Blaise is indelibly stuck in the heads of anyone who's ever seen the movie!

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