They don’t make films like this anymore, and that is probably a good thing. But that is not to say that The Tamarind Seed is a complete stinker. In fact, it is a pleasant little distraction that never wears out its welcome. But considering the talent on both sides of the camera, it should have been more than a charming trifle.
On the surface, there is something of value to its basic storyline: Judith Farrow, a secretary in Britain’s Home Office, takes a holiday to Barbados in order to escape from a failed love affair with a married military officer. Judith is still haunted by the auto accident death of her husband, and she prefers to keep to herself at the beachfront resort. Alas, she catches the fancy of Paris-based Soviet military attaché Feodor Sverdlov, who pursues her with an obsessive energy that is reminiscent of the cartoon skunk Pepe Le Pew. Judith manages to keep their relationship as platonic as possible – Feodor is also married, a fact that doesn’t seem to bother him. However, their Caribbean friendship raises concerns in London, where the local intelligence service fears Judith is being recruited as a Soviet spy – especially when Feodor keeps turning up in London to see her. And at the Soviet Embassy in Paris, Feodor’s superiors are confused about his interest in this unlikely Home Office employee.
As a Cold War melodrama, The Tamarind Seed should have played up the political and emotional paranoia of the unlikely relationship between the British secretary and the Soviet agent. Alas, director Blake Edwards primarily used this film as a vehicle to reanimate his wife Julie Andrews’ film career, which he all but killed with the 1970 musical flop Darling Lili. Andrews, of course, is a fine performer, but her Dior wardrobe is at odds with her character’s lowly social status and her thorough lack of surprise at the mayhem surrounding her stretches credibility to the fraying point. But, then again, Egyptian icon Omar Sharif is even more unlikely as a Soviet spy ready to come in from the cold – yes, he played the Russian hero of Doctor Zhivago, but in The Tamarind Seed he comes across as a cocktail party playboy rather than a Red Army officer.
To its favor, old reliable character actors including Anthony Quayle (as a suspicious British intelligence leader), Dan O’Herlihy (as a British embassy officer with a few secrets) and Oscar Homolka (as a stamp collecting Soviet embassy chief) dial up their acting to keep the drama percolating. And Sylvia Sims scored a BAFTA nomination as O’Herlihy’s virago wife – her intensity is overwhelming, to the point that it feels like she wandered in from a more interesting movie.
Still, The Tamarind Seed keeps the viewer occupied with photogenic views of its travelogue locations via Freddie Young’s crisp cinematography, and John Barry’s score is appropriately playful in the romantic interludes and tense in the climactic spy-versus-spy showdown. And while Andrews and Sharif were wrong for their roles, they look great together and invest the production with a sense of old-school style that compensates for a questionable substance.