Poppies Are Also Flowers ★★★

My interest in this movie rested squarely on the fact it originated from an idea by Ian Fleming. Learning who comprised its all-star ensemble cast didn't hurt. Among them is Harold Sakata, best known to me (and, I think it fair to say, the world) as Oddjob in Goldfinger. One more Fleming connection: the director, Terence Young, helmed three of the first four James Bond movies.

There are some obviously Fleming touches, among them the succession of international locales, some games of chance, and a fight aboard a train. These things are all nicely handled. I particularly appreciated that paper, rock, scissors ("stone, paper, scissors" here) was the dominant game of chance. That created some appreciated levity, and as a fan of the game myself, I'm always happy to see it played in movies. I dunno why. I just am.

Where the movie gets into trouble is when it skews away from Fleming and into 007 - specifically, the 007 of the Eon movie series. Though the truly outlandish gadgets and other conventions were still yet to come, enough of that cartoonish flavoring had already seeped into both Bond and spymania at large. Watching Sam Lincoln (Trevor Howard), in white formal wear, tuck a note into a compartment in the heel of his shoe felt like out-and-out parody and completely took me out of the scene and the story.

There are other problems, to be sure. The cautionary tale scenes of addicts all play like the clumsiest of after-school specials. Which, of course, the movie more or less was, being produced as anti-drug propaganda by the United Nations. The greatest offender is Rita Hayworth as the catatonic Monique Marko. IMDb's trivia page denotes that it's suspected she may have begun to suffer from Alzheimer's at the time of filming, so criticism of her performance may be unfair. All the same, her presence is baffling and distracting.

Also, the limitations of being produced for television are apparent. The scale of the movie is surprisingly large - including some truly impressive stuff shot on location in pre-revolutionary Iran - but there's something about Henri Alekan's photography that betrays the small scale production values. Watching a shot of a horseback army in the desert evocative of Lawrence of Arabia crammed into a 4:3 aspect ratio, with washed out coloring, only serves to remind us that we're not watching a major motion picture; only an earnest impostor.

In fairness, the cheap DVD I own clearly did not present a top rate transfer so some of the blame may lie not in the movie, but in the disc. Regardless, there are too many instances where clearly the production bit off more than it could chew and this detracts from the overall viewing experience.

The chief problem with such a large number of characters is that even such a stellar cast of actors can only do so much to establish and develop them. I had no problem following the narrative, but I'm also familiar with Fleming. I could detect the dots he intended the story to connect. Other viewers more accustomed to a single through-story and following plot threads to a clear payoff will be left wanting.

Ostensibly, the whole thing is an investigation conducted by Sam Lincoln and Coley Jones (E.G. Marshall), but several scenes occur independent of them and don't even clearly contribute to our sense of the scope of the opium trade. For instance, I'm unclear why we needed an entire scene of General Bahar (Jack Hawkins) exchanging congratulatory pleasantries with Colonel Salem (Yul Brynner), or Trini Lopez performing two songs at a cabaret.

Key pluses include the pace, the chemistry of the cast (Howard and Marshall are terrific together), and the humor. The action falls short of being exciting, but it's satisfying...with the lone, glaring exception of the fight on the train tracks in the finale, which is completely ruined by some of the worst rear projection work I have ever seen.

Someone really ought to go back and revisit this story, but develop it as a TV mini-series. That would allow for the greater exploration of threads and characters needed to really humanize the narrative. As it is, this presentation is too focused on hitting the beats of the investigation and not enough on getting us to care.

How Poppies Are Also Flowers Entered My Flickchart

Poppies Are Also Flowers > Swing Vote --> #815
Poppies Are Also Flowers < Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows --> #815
Poppies Are Also Flowers > The Quest --> #611
Poppies Are Also Flowers > He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special --> #509
Poppies Are Also Flowers < It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown --> #509
Poppies Are Also Flowers < Mon oncle Antoine --> #509
Poppies Are Also Flowers > The Smurfs --> #496
Poppies Are Also Flowers < Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island --> #496
Poppies Are Also Flowers < Waiting... --> #496
Poppies Are Also Flowers < Craig Ferguson: A Wee Bit o' Revolution --> #496
Poppies Are Also Flowers < The Affair of the Necklace --> #496

Poppies Are Also Flowers entered my Flickchart at #496/1629