Color, 1974, 124 mins. 46 secs.
Directed by Blake Edwards
Starring Julie Andrews, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quayle, Dan O'Herlihy, Sylvia Sims, Oskar Homolka, Bryan Marshall
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray) (US RA HD),
Network (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Timeless Media (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
One of Hollywood's most enduring and successful couples from the 1960s, director Blake Edwards and star Julie Andrews, was going through a rough spot at the box office in the 1970s after the New Hollywood overhaul had begun. In particular their first film together, Darling Lili, had proven to be a costly flop (regardless of the film's actual quality), but after a few years of raising children, they decided to join forces again in '74 with The Tamarind Seed, a serious espionage romance whose muted reception sent Edwards back to the drawing board for a new wave of Pink Panther comedies. Though the film may have been out of step with what audiences wanted at the time, it has plenty to offer and won over fans later through frequent TV airings and home video releases.
While nursing a broken heart in Barbados, British Home Office assistant Judith Farrow (Andrews) begins a tentative romance with Feodor Sverdlov (Sharif), an important Soviet air attaché. Both of their bosses believe the affair to have ulterior motives with Judith's superior (Quayle) believing she's being pulled into a scheme to turn her into a spy-- a story reaffirmed by Feodor as a ruse to keep their liaisons going. However, international complications erupt that will threaten to tear them apart and even imperil their lives.
The vivid Maurice Binder opening credits and infectious, beautiful score by John Barry might lead one to expect a James Bond-style spy thriller, but The Tamarind Seed (adapted from a 1971 novel by Evelyn Anthony) is more like a warmer take on the popular novels by John le Carré that were filling paperback racks everywhere at the time. Though her earlier spy film, Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain, hadn't done many favors for Andrews' career, she's very much in her element here with a winning performance that finds her quite relaxed, contemplative, and sympathetic; Sharif matches her with a softer, wittier characterization than the more steely roles he'd been indulging in just before this. Everyone is at the top of their game here including a superb supporting cast, particularly a scene-stealing Sylvia Sims, and the whole thing is given an impressive gloss thanks to the beautiful widescreen lensing of Freddie Young (who was on a really odd stretch just before this with The Asphyx, Ryan's Daughter, and Nicholas and Alexandra).
Produced by Sir Lew Grade's ITC and released in the U.S. by Embassy, The Tamarind Seed has gone through many hands over the years including American home video releases from Artisan, Magnetic Video, Timeless Media and Embassy over the years with British ones from Carlton and Precision. However, none of them looked all that great (including Carlton's poor letterboxed but 4x3 DVD) until the first Blu-ray from Network in 2015. Finally the gorgeous visuals could be fully appreciated (and wow, do those Binder credits knock you out on a large screen), and as with almost all of his other films, you can't really appreciate an Edwards film at all unless it's in full scope. In 2019, Scorpion Releasing brought the film to the U.S. from the same excellent source, and it looks identical. The DTS-HD MA English mono track is also quite nice with Barry's score coming through beautifully, and optional English SDH subtitles are included. Bonus features also included on the U.K. release are two Russell Harty Plus Sharif TV interviews from 1972 (14m59s), with a saucy appearance by Diana Dors, and 1974 , and an Edwards interview (34m57s) with Harty along with Peter Sellers and Burt Kwouk, which is an obvious must for Clouseauphiles. The jackets and hairstyles are really something else, too. The theatrical trailer is also included along with bonus ones for Conduct Unbecoming, Eagle's Wing, Love Letters, The Salamander, and Aloha, Bobby and Rose. Exclusive to the U.K. disc, if you're so inclined, are an image gallery and two music suites of the score cues and songs (six tracks), presumably omitted elsewhere for legal reasons.
Reviewed on October 9, 2019.