Friday, February 20, 2015

The Tamarind Seed (1974)



          After making a huge splash in the ’60s, thanks to Mary Poppins (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965), actress Julie Andrews mostly sat out the ’70s, appearing in just three movies that decade—all of which were directed by her husband, Blake Edwards. Interestingly, each of these pictures attempts to inject overt sexuality into Andrews’ wholesome image. Darling Lili (1970) overreaches by casting Andrews as a World War I femme fatale, and 1o (1979) boldly features Andrews as an aging beauty whose lover is tempted by a much younger woman. The role Andrews plays in The Tamarind Seed falls between these extremes, and the middle ground suits her talents well.
          Adapted by Edwards from a novel by Evelyn Anthony, The Tamarind Seed concerns average Englishwoman Judith Farrow (Andrews), who works as a secretary for an office of British Intelligence. While on vacation in the Caribbean, Judith is approached by suave Russian Feodor Sverdiov (Omar Sharif), who expresses romantic interest. Suspicious that he’s playing her for access to sensitive government information, Judith resists Feodor’s advances—only to have Feodor blithely admit that he was in fact tasked with seducing her. The twist, he says, is that he’s grown genuinely fond of her and wants to pursue a relationship despite the complications. Surprising herself, Judith accepts the overture and tries to make things work, even as spymasters from the UK and the USSR monitor the couple’s courtship as if it’s an ongoing international incident.
          Although the movie is ultimately a bit of a muddle, since Edwards can’t fully decide whether the film is a romance with an espionage backdrop or a spy story with a romantic backdrop, The Tamarind Seed has many virtues. The production is as lush as that of a 007 movie, right down to the participation of Bond regulars John Barry (composer) and Maurice Binder (title-sequence designer). Andrews gives a more credible turn as a cynical grown-up than you might expect, and it’s a startling to see Mary Poppins strolling around in a bikini. Sharif does his usual smug-stud routine, casually issuing such insulting lines as, “You don’t know how charming it is to meet an intelligent woman who does stupid things.”
          Better still, Edwards populates the supporting cast with fine actors including Dan O’Herlihy and Anthony Quayle, who do what they can to energize confusing subplots about double-crosses and moles and, surprisingly, an intelligence operative trying to keep his homosexuality secret. Quayle’s character sums up the whole distrustful milieu with a pithy monologue: “My line of business has taught me three things—no one’s to be trusted, nothing is to be believed, and anyone is capable of doing anything.”
          The Tamarind Seed gets mired in lots of repetitive material, from long scenes of Andrews and Sharif debating politics in exotic locations to quick vignettes during which high-ranking officials capriciously decide the fates of their underlings. It’s all quite sophisticated, but also sterile and, particularly in the realm of dialogue, pretentious. The movie is more rewarding than it is frustrating, but it’s a close call.

The Tamarind Seed: FUNKY

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