Tuesday 10 September 2019

Movie Review: The Tamarind Seed (1974)

An international espionage romance, The Tamarind Seed attempts to create a personal human drama within the Cold War context but suffers from excessively lackadaisical pacing.

British Home Office assistant Judith Farrow (Julie Andrews) is vacationing in Barbados to recover from a botched love affair with a married Paris-based diplomat, which followed the death of her husband. Soviet military attaché Feodor Sverdlov (Omar Sharif) is vacationing in the adjacent bungalow. Honest about being married, he initiates a friendship that blossoms into a romance, but Judith insists they do not sleep together. They return to Europe, Sverdlov promising to reconnect.

In London, British intelligence officer Jack Loder (Anthony Quayle) and his assistant MacLeod (Bryan Marshall) take a keen interest in the burgeoning relationship between Judith and Sverdlov, sure that the suave Russian is attempting to recruit the naive assistant. Also worried is British minister Fergus Stephenson (Dan O'Herlihy) and his wife Margaret (Sylvia Syms), who hold secrets that may be revealed with any Russian defection. Judith and Sverdlov pursue a romance while both the British and Russian governments are deeply suspicious that something more nefarious is afoot.

A laudable attempt to create a more cerebral and character-centred story about the human cost of the Cold War, The Tamarind Seed falls into the cracks between too much plot and not enough momentum. Director Blake Edwards (Andrews' husband) adapted the Evelyn Anthony book and should have streamlined the narrative and jettisoned more of the clutter. The central romance is often suspended in time and space as marginal characters and events swirl around the lovers, too many conniving agents, officials, diplomats, wives, girlfriends, ex-lovers and henchmen getting in the way.

The Cold War's disruptive impact on the most basic of human pleasures is an intended theme, but the love affair proceeds at a glacial pace and along a ponderous and repetitive path. Both Andrews and Sharif are game for their roles and advance a welcome photogenic maturity into the discourse, but their conversations too often spin in the same cycle of Sverdlov seeking to advance to the lovemaking stage and Judith resisting.

On the margins they veer into unconvincing and muddled compare-and-contrast debates about capitalism versus communism, Sverdlov often tediously pontificating about the essence of the Russian character. The legend of a condemned Barbados slave and the shape of the Tamarind tree seed take on profound symbolism of the eye-rolling variety.

When the discourse evolves to the possibility of an actual defection, the multiple layers of lying and deception render all commitments suspect, undermining any investment in the characters' real motivations. By the time some action sparks to life late in the third act, intelligence officer Loder essentially becomes the most influential character with Judith and Sverdlov reduced to pawns in their own game.

Bond series veterans Maurice Binder and John Barry contribute the classy title sequence design and evocative music score. Both promise more than the film can deliver, as this Russian spy is licenced to merely talk, love, and philosophize.

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  1. Lasted half an hour and was bored to tears. A terrible waste of two fine actors.

    1. Given the top talent involved on both sides of the camera, this one definitely under-delivers.


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