Another From The United Nations Parade Of Hits ...
Will The Poppy Is Also A Flower (1966) Bloom Again?
This ad in Charlotte's
paper stopped me cold. Was this a new James Bond? The Poppy Is Also A Flower was
first shown on television (4/66), then at theatres worldwide. It was produced
under auspices of the United Nations, financed by the Xerox Corporation, plus
monies from Euro distribs. Links to 007 were rife and heavily emphasized.
Terence Young of three Bond-ventures would direct a story conceived by Ian
Fleming. The cast was international and star-studded, all in for a single
dollar, or English pound, Austrian shilling, whatever currency was dispensed in
variety of countries where shooting took place. UN topper Adlai Stevenson
helped grease wheels of cooperation and equated creative input to public
service, thus a Yes from most names asked to participate. Proceeds were
earmarked for UNICEF and other charities, so volunteers knew cash would head in
useful direction. Director Young had choice of subject matter from UN files,
and chose the opium scourge for his action base. From there, a modest venture
grew to big-budget quest of Young to out-do Bond and have himself a sprawling
and international hit.
Production took nine months at a cost of $1.8
million. Young had worked closely with author Fleming to incorporate "all
the James Bondesque elements imaginable." Filming took place all over the
continent, much of hospitality via the Shah Of Iran, who put desert locations
and his nation's army at disposal of Young's crew. Iranian effort to quell drug
trade was lauded by Princess Grace of Monaco, who spent two days filming
a prologue for the feature. Distribution got cinched for all territories
excepting the US (MGM, for
instance, handling UK
dates). Stateside majors balked due to Poppy's tube-premiering, that set in
stone for 4/22 no matterepic size of the completed pic. Young was told to trim The Poppy Is Also A Flower to 80 minutes for fit into
hour-and-half slot ABCskedded. That meant twenty minutes shaved off
100 that was Poppy's full length, these including "adult" content
Young inserted for worldwide lure.
Some of wallop recalled highlights from James
Bonds previous. There were bikini-clad girl wrestlers to evoke the gypsy fight
in From Russia With Love, and the rail-set combat to death between 007 and assassin
"Grant" (Robert Shaw) from the same film was redone here with UN
investigator E.G. Marshall opposing drug minion Anthony Quayle. Variety
reviewed The Poppy Is Also A Flower in its TV version and sang praise, called
it "drama ... loaded with suspense, action, and excitement." Tube
broadcast notwithstanding, there was a "World Premiere" in Vienna (5/7/66) at "the biggest cinema in Europe," seating 3,000 at what ordinarily was host
to sport events and ice extravaganzas. Government officials and Poppy stars
were there in force as the film teed off successful runs across the continent. What
remained was theatrical release for The Poppy Is Also A Flower in America,
but who'd distribute after ABC and sponsoring Xerox gave the show away?
A new company, Comet Films, picked up The PoppyIs Also A Flower among
twenty features they'd have in US circulation for fall/winter 1966. Poppy, of
course, was the jewel, but Comet couldn't swing initial bookings for New
York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, each turndown based on TV having
first sniffed the Flower. Comet settled for a Texas opening, then to whatever
keys they could interest. All would pound the James Bond links, Thunderballhaving been a biggest of all 007's and still playing to full houses. Comet made
hay too of fact that theirs was a complete and unexpurgated version of The
Poppy Is Also A Flower, unlike ABC's sanitized run. Expectations ran high,
Comet headed into the marketplace with 200 prints (an "unusually large
number ... for an indie," said Variety), execs figuring on two million at
least in domestic rental. They'd adjust that later ("perhaps
over-optimistic" said Comet staff), one million being the more realistic
estimate. As of June 1967, however, Comet was still trying to rinse off the
stain of Poppy having run first on television, and theatres' ongoing reluctance
to book it as result.
Poppy barely sprouts on DVD, or streaming, let
alone Blu-Ray. An indie label offers it as The Opium Connection, but reviews say
picture/sound "leaves much to be desired." There's a disc from Region
Two that smacks of buyer beware. You can watch The Poppy Is Also A Flower
on You Tube, but that isn't the experience Terence Young aimed for. Maybe
it's foolish optimism, but I've a feeling Poppy would flourish on properly
restored and widescreen HD, but who the deuce "owns" it? Maybe I
should drop by UN headquarters like
Roger Thornhill and ask how much for rights to The Poppy Is Also A Flower. Wish
someone would,because it's a fun ride over 60's "International"
landscape. The cast is glittery, with action profuse, if not on level with 007.
I'd have liked Poppy a lot more in 1966 than Matt Helm, Flint,
or U.N.C.L.E paste-ups, but who would drive me ninety miles to the Dilworth in Charlotte?
Fun's a-plenty, even on You Tube. Stephen Boyd
looks to crack the cartel in a first reel, but is casually killed off so a next
star can shine. That's Yul Brynner, and later Jack Hawkins, as uniforms
behind UN force. Going undercover are Trevor Howard and E.G. Marshall, theirs
an early incarnation of "buddy cops" later decades would
popularize. Scheme is to make opium radioactive so shipments will trace easier.
Eli Wallach pops in as a dealer who fronts in aspirin and toothpaste sales,
while lead heavy is Gilbert Roland, his muscle assist Harold Sakata in Oddjob
guise. Briefly-in Rita Hayworth carries heroin in her purse. T. Howard notes
grimlythat there are "60,000 addicts in New York alone" (so few?). He cites as
well "the law of the Mafia" that results in prison strangulation of a
would-be informer. There would seem no reason for Trini Lopez to appear and
sing Lemon Tree, yet there he is. Such is the wide, weird, world of The Poppy Is
Also A Flower, a relic rare and likely to remain so until someone (anyone!)
comes to belated rescue and makes it generally available again.