THE TAMARIND SEED (1974)
While in Bangkok recently, I once hopped over to the enormous Saphan Khao Fruit Market, mainly to take some photographs of the Dragon Fruit (Gao Mung Gorn) and other exotic and unfamiliar fruits you will come across in Bangkok. Now Saphan Khao Market is a fruit lovers’ paradise where most fruit-lovers can come across their requirements. Having feasted on a delicious breakfast with cheeses, cold meats, small bowl of salads and an assortment of wheat breads, and a hassle-free taxi ride from our hotel in the infamous morning traffic of Bangkok, we were not in a hurry to leave this market. Amongst the huge crowd of customers on that day was a group of tourists from Singapore tasting and buying a fruit called “Makham wan” (Scientific name: Tamarindus indica), a sweeter variety of tamarind available in Thailand which is generally eaten fresh after peeling, while it can also be boiled in water to make a refreshing fruit drink. Native to tropical Africa and widely grown in India, the long, bean-like pods containing sweet and sour pulp of the tamarind fruit and shiny Spanish mahogany-coloured seeds is not alien to us as it forms part of the culinary usage in this part of the world just as in Latin American countries. Next to the Singaporeans savouring the tamarind fruit (Puli, in Malayalam), I could see a tall plastic container with holes around its lower rim, positioned by the drainage to the side of the stall, where customers could discard the tamarind seeds and pod shells and its strings. Those holes acted as lower outlets for the dirty water to flow out when the water tap above the container is occasionally opened to cleanse the contents in it. Considering the numerous nutritional and health benefits of these seeds and pods, they were eventually collected and transported elsewhere for processing. The seeds are also a popular snack amongst the rural population as an emergency appetizer. Due to its medicinal qualities, they are roasted, soaked and eaten whole to expel intestinal parasites or added with other ingredients to make substitute for coffee. I was told that the extract of the seeds is also used in eye drops for dry eyes while these seeds are also powdered and used as starch in the textile industry. At that moment, I was reminded of a curious legend told in the 1974 Blake Edwards’ film “The Tamarind Seed” in which the seeds play a pivotal role in the culmination of the love affair between the characters played by Julie Andrews and Omar “Cairo Fred” Sharif. As the legend of The Tamarind Seed goes: “A slave on Hayward’s plantation, St. Peter, accused of stealing a sheep, was hanged from a Tamarind tree. He protested his innocence, saying that the tree would vindicate him. Since then the Tamarind tree has born a seed in the shape of a man’s head.” Although we longed to see that film once again, our copy was in our library in India. I stored the thought away for fulfilment at a later date. That later date turned up only after I learned of the sad demise of its male star in the central role. Blake Edwards (born William Blake Crump), as we know was originally a writer and actor before he turned director of movies under the titles: Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961); Days of Wine and Roses (1962); What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966); 10 (1979), S.O.B. (1981); Victor Victoria (1982); The Pink Panther series; etc. He is also the director of Darling Lili and The Tamarind Seed, which was the second of seven films made with Julie Andrews (born Julia Elizabeth Wells) by Blake Edwards since his marriage to her in November, 1969. The first film, Darling Lili (1970) featured Andrews as a World War I spy against the English posing as a London music hall performer who turns a dance performance into a striptease. The film failed to generate audience interest at its release but the role of Lili Smith transformed Julie Andrews as sexy from the sweetened screen image she earned from the title role (her film debut) in Mary Poppins (1964, D: Robert Stevenson). The second film, The Tamarind Seed was based on the 1971 book by Evelyn Anthony, faithfully adopted for the screen by Blake Edwards, effecting modifications on the geographical details of the romantic storyline from Washington, D.C/New York to Paris/London and supplementing with scenes such as the action sequence at the London Heathrow Airport. The Tamarind Seed featured a contemporary love story with spy elements of the Cold War. Now in this review of The Tamarind Seed, we are talking here about a time when KGB, Lubyanka prison, Iron Curtain were constant reminders of dread. The attractive British widow of the movie, Judith Farrow (Julie Andrews) whose husband had died in a car crash, is on holiday in Barbados to find herself after failure of a six-month affair with a married British group-Captain Richard Paterson. The small hilly island of Barbados, shaped like a loin pork chop, with its large sugar cane plantations, elegant resorts, hotels, many miles of silky white beaches, and, of course, sun, has been the most favoured travel destination for sun-seekers for several centuries. Here, by sheer coincidence, Judith is strangely drawn to a tall, dark, ‘very kind, knowledgeable and generous man” called Feodor Sverdlov (Omar Sharif) staying in a neighbouring villa, here on vacation “to get away from people”. No sooner their friendship became known in official channels, their activities were closely monitored. What on earth is she doing with a Russian spy? From Judith, Feodor learned that she is a personal assistant to a man called Sam Neilson of the Home Office in London. Feodor let her know that he is employed as a military attaché at the Soviet embassy in Paris. During the time they have been seeing each other, they had developed simple, satisfying routines: two dinners, an early morning swim, a dinner at the Colony Club and sparkling conversations. While on a visit to the Bridgetown museum, they came across “The Legend of the Tamarind Seed” and a seed in the shape of a man’s head. Impressed by the legend, she wished she would find such a tamarind seed. Ever since they met, Feodor had been full of life, energy, and mischief and let her know of his desire for her. Although she found him affectionate and harmless, she was always thinking defensively. All the same, she told him about her failed affair with Captain Paterson, a mistake she admitted to Feodor later. Feodor too was not far behind in telling her about his unhappy marriage to a woman back home, who is a very good judge of everything and knows exactly what is right and what is not right. He didn’t find it a great mistake in letting her know that he did not feel anything for the socialist revolution anymore. The following day, as Judith wanted, they went looking for the tamarind tree at Hayward’s plantation. Later, en route to London, Judith’s flight was over the Atlantic Ocean when she found a tamarind seed, in the shape of a human head, in an envelope given to her by Feodor when he bid goodbye at the hotel. She was happy so now had her tamarind seed. In Paris, Judith was interrogated by Jack Loder (Anthony Quayle), the British Intelligence officer located at the Paris embassy, which Judith found irritating, but felt helpless. Her friendship with Feodor has put her in a cloud of suspicion and she is considered a security risk. Questions were raised at her. Was their meeting really accidental? Why did this man choose Judith out of the whole island? Was Feodor trying to recruit Judith as spy? The way Judith was, she would be a brilliant gift to them. Anyhow, Loder would take the issue in stride and directed her to inform him of any specific developments. Jack Loder had other worries, too. He worked in a world of political loyalty, betrayal, murder and professionalism. He had discovered that an unknown Soviet spy under the code name “Blue” existed within the British government. Arriving back in his Paris office, Feodor spoke of his friendship at Barbados with his Russian boss, General Golitsyn (Oscar Homolka). The General, who listened with perceptible interest, was led to believe that the woman in question has a very confidential job at the Home Office in London and could be very useful. Feodor also suggested that he could recruit Judith. In fact, Feodor secretly believed that this ploy would enable him to meet Judith again, the inspiration and object of his love, and he can continue with the affair blossomed at Barbados. In time Judith met up with Feodor for a dinner and let him know about Loder’s interrogation. Feodor advised her to “try to tell the truth as long as possible, that way when time has changed and you have to lie, there is a great chance that you will be believed.” Although in the beginning Judith was wary of starting a new relationship, things are different now. Later, based on warning from Judith, Feodor decided against returning to Russia but elected to seek political asylum in Canada with the help of Captain Paterson and Jack Loder. Feodor will not go empty handed to Canada. In exchange to set up home there with the usual guarantees, Feodor will be a very worthy acquisition to Britain. His offer to the British would be magnificent: the identity of the unknown British traitor “Blue”. For that prize, he knew Loder would plan everything for Feodor down to a “T”. Subsequently, Feodor stole an ultra-secret file from the Soviet embassy for the British intelligence – an action which would set off the bulls and bears of the good old days of the Cold War lashing out dangerous repercussions in the lives of Judith and Feodor. As the character of actor Donald Sutherland spoke in the 2003 version of the movie, The Italian Job: ‘There are two kinds of thieves in this world: the ones who steal to enrich their lives, and the ones who steal to define their lives.’ Well, Feodor’s reason is obvious. Produced by Ken Wales with music by John Barry, the American-Britsh romantic drama, rated PG, has an impressive line-up of crew: Ernest Walter (Editor – The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968)); Harry Pottle (Art Direction – You Only Live Twice (1967)); Maurice Binder (Main title designer – earlier James Bond movies); John Briggs (wardrobe supervisor – Isadora (1968)) and Academy Award-winning cameraman Freddie Young (Doctor Zhivago/Lawrence of Arabia). Young had worked in Barbados earlier for the 1957 film Island in the Sun (Dir: Robert Rossen) British-born Julie Andrews in the role of the British Home Office functionary has the role tailor-cut for her. Julie is always worth looking although in this movie she does not wholly delve beneath the surface of her character. Julie Andrews’ clothes in this film are by Christian Dior and co-ordinated by Emma Porteus. With his dark Egyptian features and smouldering eyes, Omar Sharif (born Michel Demetri Shalhoub) as the Russian spy lover displays a masterly flair in liveliness and chivalry, and, of course, very persisting with his wanting for Judith ever since he met her. Sharif was a very popular heart-throb during this period with a string of romances and a steady row of films prior to The Tamarind Seed: The Last Valley (Dir: James Clavell), The Horsemen (Dir: John Frankenheimer) and The Burglers (Le casse, Dir: Henri Verneuil). In 1973 when he appeared as Le capitaine Nemo in six episodes of the TV-Mini-Series L’île mystérieuse, he had purchased a huge mansion on the Spanish island of Lanzarote (in the Canary islands off the coast of West Africa), calling it Casa Omar Sharif. In May, 1973, The Tamarind Seed started initial filming at locations at Barbados’ west and east coasts before the unit shifted to London for further filming. Meanwhile, in early June, Omar Sharif won The Ladbroke World Master Bridge Championship, when he beat the former champion Latvia-born Boris Schapiro in London. Under Blake Edward’s intelligent and sophisticated direction, the film also features an impressive line-up of supporting cast: Anthony Quayle; Oscar Homolka (Final film); Irish actor Daniel O’Herlihy (Fergus Stephenson, the British minister in Paris); David Baron (Richard Paterson); Celia Bannerman (Rachel Paterson); Bryan Marshall (George MacLeod); live up to the roles of their characters. Also in the supporting role is English actress Sylvia Syms (Sylvia May Laura Syms OBE) as the unhappy diplomatic wife Margaret Stephenson with desire for unholy carnal pleasures and an energizing passion for dominance. Syms, who would act as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in The Queen (2006, Dir: Stephen Frears), earned a BAFTA nomination for The Tamarind Seed. Other members of cast: Roger Dann (Colonel Moreau); Sharon Duce (Sandy Mitchell); George Mikell (Major Stukalov); Kate O’Mara (Anna Skriabina); Constantin de Goguel (Dimitri Memenov); Alexei Jawdokimov (Igor Kalinin); Janet Henfrey (Embassy Section Head); John Sullivan (1st KGB Agent); Terence Plummer (2nd KGB Agent); Leslie Crawford (3rd KGB Agent). The film is also known under the titles: La semilla del tamarindo (Spain); Il seme del tamarindo (Italy); A Semente de Tamarindo (Portugal); Die Frucht des Tropenbaumes (West Germany); Sementes de Tamarindo (Brazil). The Soundtracks are: a) “Play It Again” sung by Wilma Reading (uncredited) – Music (John Barry), Lyrics (Don Black) and b) “Man with a Monkey” Music (Sam Fonteyn). The Tamarind Seed was filmed through facilities of Samuelson Film Service Ltd, London. Besides locations at Eaton Square, Belgravia, I remember having read somewhere that more location shooting was facilitated at the London Zoo, at scriptwriter George Axelrod’s house in Mayfair district and at a Jazz Club. In Paris apart from Champs-Élysées, and other streets, locations included France-Amériques, Orly Airport, etc. The film never fully explores the attractions of Barbados which retains its Old World charm which is British. On a historical note, this is the place where George Washington brought his brother, Lawrence, in 1751 to recuperate from tuberculosis (now known as the George Washington House) – the only land outside North America Washington ever set foot. Apart from the scenic beauty of the sandy beaches and the horizon, people lazing under coconut palms, parts of cultivated countryside, and interior of the museum, hotels, etc, the heritage monuments and picturesque sights of the island are not shown – such as the bronze statue of Admiral Lord Nelson (erected on 22 March 1813) at Trafalgar Square (renamed National Heroes Square) in the picturesque capital city of Bridgetown, which is older than the Lord’s statue in London. With a good script, charming performances, haunting score, this is a lovely movie for those who love ingenious espionage thrillers and mature romance – a mellow way to end the day. Jo. Notes: 1.. The DVDs of the movies referred in this article are available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc.
3.. The book Judith is reading when she first met Feodor is a hardback edition of Kingsley Amis novel The Riverside Villas Murder, published in 1973 (read elsewhere that this dust jacket was designed by illustrator and children’s author Ian Beck.)
4.. Darling Lili gathered Academy Award nominations for Best Original or Adaptation Score and Best Original Song (Whistling Away the Dark – sung by Julie Andrews) for Henry Mancini (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyrics); and for Best Costume Design for Jack Bear and Donald Brooks.
5.. Evelyn Bridget Patricia Ward-Thomas (pseudonym: Evelyn Anthony, Anthony Evelyn, Eve Stephens) born on July 3, 1928, and convent educated, wrote ten successful romance/historical novels before turning to genres: Mystery/Crime/Suspense. She lives in Essex, England.
6.. Those of you who liked the novel “The Tamarind Seed” may like to check Evelyn Anthony’s “The Defector” for their similarities. Further books by Evelyn Anthony currently in Manningtree Archive: 7.. Sharif divorce his wife, Egyptian film and television actress and producer Faten Hamama in 1974, the year this movie was released (Faten Hamama died on January 17, 2015 at the same age Omar Sharif will join his former wife at the grave in less than six months later.)
8.. Julie Andrews is the second Julie to become Sharif’s heroine following Julie Christie of Doctor Zhivago. Julie Newmar was his co-star in Mackenna’s Gold.
9.. The movie’s links to month of July: Author Evelyn Anthony was born on July 3 (1928); Director Blake Edwards born on July 26 (1922); Omar Sharif died on July 10 (2015).
(© Joseph Sebastine/Manningtree Archive)