Film: The Tamarind Seed

When I stumbled across The Tamarind Seed (1974) in my search for an old spy movie to watch, I wasn’t expecting to see Blake Edwards—a director I’ve always associated with broad comedy—featured so prominently in the credits. Considering his body of work, the most striking thing about this staid puzzler is how humorless it is.

Julie Andrews stars as Judith Farrow, an aide for the British Home Office. When Judith journeys to Barbados on a vacation to recover from the troubles of her own life—her husband’s tragic death, and an ill-considered affair with an air force captain—she meets a similarly vacationing Feodor Sverdlov (Omar Sharif), a Russian military attache. Their platonic involvement seems innocent enough at first, but agents on both sides of the Iron Curtain, either concerned about the security risks or enthusiastic about the opportunity to obtain new information, start monitoring the situation. As Judith and Feodor’s low-key romance progresses, the complexity of negotiating the perceptions of their institutional masters transforms their innocent acquaintanceship into a emotionally charged game of espionage.

Don’t be fooled by the knock-off, Bondian credit sequence. Although it possesses an attractive, old-school Panavision look and is generally competent and professional, The Tamarind Seed is a bit of a snore, hampered by a sparkless central romance. Andrews is inscrutably somber, while Sharif, whose character is presented as a seductive charmer, comes off like a creepy mansplainer. Their lack of chemistry might have been saved by a more involved and interesting plot, but it’s all quite familiar. Indeed, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much better the Mission: Impossible episode “The Short Tail Spy” handled this type of story several years earlier, with half the running time and a fraction of the budget. The supporting cast provides some effective spydom archetypes—Anthony Quayle as scheming espiocrat Jack Loder, Daniel O’Herlihy as closeted British diplomat Fergus Stephenson, and Sylvia Sims as Fergus’ ambitious, dissatisfied wife Margaret. But beyond that there isn’t much to elevate this film beyond the comforting background noises of its genre and filmmaking era.

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