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The Poppy Is Also A Flower
(a.k.a. Poppies Are Also Flowers and The Opium Connection)
(1966)

Director: Terence Young
Cast:
Senta Berger, Stephen Boyd, Yul Brynner


Although I have reviewed a ton of violent movies on this web site, and I intend to review a lot more in the years to come, I am not a violent sort of person in my life. When I see a creepy person up ahead of me on the sidewalk, I usually see if I can cross the road and avoid that individual instead of keeping my originally planned walking route - I don't want to risk even the slightest chance of getting into some sort of violent confrontation should that creepy person turn out to have an unstable or just violent perspective. While from that example I have illustrated that I'm not a hostile person, at the same time I find that, just like all of you out there, I am constantly struggling with various challenges in this world of ours. Let me illustrate some things that I find myself challenged by in my city alone. The first example is with the ridiculous retail rental rates being charged by commercial property landlords in the downtown area I live in - it has slowly lead to businesses either going out of business or moving away from downtown, and all that empty space is slowly making downtown look more or less abandoned. And that encourages more creepy people to come downtown and walk towards me. Another problem I have in my downtown neighborhood is birds. There is a law forbidding people to feed the seagulls, pigeons, and other winged animals in the downtown core. But I constantly see piles of seed that people have spread on the sidewalk. This of course encourages birds to hang around downtown for a free meal, and this means that the sidewalks and buildings downtown have all been "frosted" by the birds, if you get me.

If I were to be asked what to do about those problems, I would say it's simple - make tax incentives to encourage local businesses to stay, and enforce the no feed law and dish out heavy fines to those that break the law. But I know that answers to such problems are never that easy - they often bring new problems in. So I am not sure as to what to suggest for much larger problems. For example, the problem of illegal narcotics. It's been going on for many decades now, and it shows no sign of fading. All I know is what doesn't seem to help the problem. One such suggestion that has been proposed is to get Hollywood to help, to make movies that are one way or another anti-drug. But I have seen that Hollywood's occasional efforts to make such movies haven't worked. Legendary Hollywood B movie producer Samuel Z. Arkoff put it best in his memoir Flying Through Hollywood By The Seat Of My Pants. He pointed out that anti-drug movies, including movies like Frank Sinatra's The Man With The Golden Arm and Al Pacino's The Panic In Needle Park, failed to attract significant audiences. "The last thing young audiences want is a heavy-handed morality lecture, and they certainly won't pay for one," he wrote. I think Arkoff hit the nail on the head. Whether young audiences are users of narcotics or not, showing youths in some sort of drug hell simply isn't appealing. In fact, Arkoff in his career showed that movies that were more or less pro narcotic in nature would attract people; The Trip and Psych-Out, both produced by Arkoff, were big money makers.

Still, despite those facts that I discussed in the previous paragraph concerning The Poppy Is Also A Floweranti-drug movies not being especially popular with audiences, Hollywood still on occasion makes an anti-drug movie. Some of them have been good; for example, I thought the Michael Keaton movie Clean And Sober was well done. And some have been very offbeat, like The Poppy Is Also A Flower. How offbeat is it? you may be asking. Consider these facts. It was a movie bankrolled by both The United Nations and the Xerox foundation. It was based on a story by Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond book series. It attracted a number of top Hollywood film stars to act in the movie, who all were so passionate about the project that they waived their usual high salaries and were instead only given one dollar each in payment. Despite all that, the movie didn't make many waves with the public, and was quickly forgotten. So forgotten, that the movie's copyright failed to be renewed at the right time, and the movie entered the public domain. Despite being easy to find, I felt it was all the same an unknown movie, so I decided to take a look at it. The movie is centered around two anti-drug agents who are working for the United Nations, an American named Coley Jones (E. G. Marshall, Billy Jack Goes To Washington) and an Englishman named Sam Lincoln (Trevor Howard, Sword Of The Valiant). Not long into the movie, they get a new assignment. Earlier in the country of Iran, another United Nations agent, a man by the name of Benson (Boyd, The Oscar) managed to get out of the hands of drug kingpin Serge Marko (Gilbert Roland, Any Gun Can Play) a good amount of locally grown opium, but was killed shortly afterwards by Marko's men. The United Nations wants Jones and Lincoln, with the help of Iranian authorities, to track the opium shipment so they can connect it to Marko and bring him to justice. It doesn't take long for Jones and Lincoln to find out this won't be an easy task, especially since not long after getting the assignment, they cross paths with a woman named Linda (Angie Dickinson, Big Bad Mama) - who claims to be the widow of Benson and seems to be out for revenge.

More than fifty years after The Poppy Is Also A Flower was released, the global war on illegal drugs is still brewing. Not only has the number of drug addicts skyrocketed to record levels, the attempt to eradicate the menace of illegal drugs has resulted in the drug trade becoming more dangerous. With this in mind before sitting down to watch the movie, I wondered if the movie's attitude towards drugs would come across as dated today. Though I also remembered that some things are as true today as they were in the past. As it turned out, while it's possible that the filmmakers did have serious intentions to educate the audience about illegal drugs, they did a pretty poor doing so. Grace Kelly shows up at the beginning of the movie to deliver a short lecture where she states to the audience that illegal drugs are, "...spreading day by day... no one can turn away [from the problem]...", as well as saying that young people are in danger from the menace of narcotics. Later in the movie, the protagonists visit a jail where we see for a few seconds drug addicts in withdrawal. Further on, we briefly meet a dance girl at a night club who is an addict. And that is about it when it comes to the portrayal of illegal drugs in The Poppy Is Also A Flower. And the little that the movie does to educate the audience certainly isn't portrayed very strongly; that dance girl, for one thing, doesn't seem to be particularly desperate for her next fix despite dialogue stating that she has needle scars all over her arms. Not only is the menace of drugs not demonized enough, for long periods of time there are absolutely no direct references that the protagonists are fighting a drug ring and the bad guys are running a drug ring. With very little rewriting, the script could have been about smuggling uranium or diamonds.

Probably more of interest to you than the movie's attitude towards drugs are the actors who make an appearance in the movie. Besides Grace Kelly and the actors I mentioned two paragraphs ago in the plot description, The Poppy Is Also A Flower also boasts appearances by Yul Brynner, Hugh Griffith, Jack Hawkins, Rita Hayworth, Marcello Mastroianni, Barry Sullivan, Trini Lopez, Anthony Quayle, Harold Sakata, Omar Sharif, and Eli Wallach. That cast list may make the movie look great on its poster, but I think viewers will be disappointed by how the majority of the cast is used. Most of that big name talent only makes extended cameos at best. And their brief appearances generally don't showcase the actors at their best; Yul Brynner, for one thing, looks extremely uncomfortable and spouts his lines of dialogue very quickly as if he wanted to get out of there quickly. The actors who get the most screen time are those I mentioned in the plot description, but that does not mean that they give better performances... or have better written characters. Take Gilbert Roland's drug kingpin character, for one thing. While Roland and the screenplay get some points for not making the character an outrageous stereotype and attempt to make him more believable, at the same time they go too far down the direction they attempt. The character of Serge Marko doesn't seem to be all that bad - he's polite, business-like, and pretty much leaves all of his dirty dealings to his henchmen instead of actually doing something himself. It also doesn't help that there is an incredibly long middle section where the character is both offscreen and given very little mention by the other characters in the movie.

The protagonists in The Poppy Is Also A Flower aren't any better realized. Angie Dickinson's character is also forgotten about for the longest time. And actors E. G. Marshall and Trevor Howard not only seem absolutely bored, the two have absolutely no chemistry in the scenes where they are paired up. All the characters in the movie are drab and bland. The script certainly shares some blame for this, but I think a good deal more falls on the shoulders of director Terence Young (The Klansman). Certainly, he was hampered by the fact that the script was almost entirely dialogue-driven, giving him precious little opportunity to inject action sequences like in the James Bond movies he previously helmed. (As it turns out, almost all of the limited action showcased in the movie is not directed in a particularly engaging manner.) But he still could have put a sense of urgency into the movie. While the protagonists only have a few days to crack the drug ring and are risking their lives in the process, there is no tension, no feeling that there is great danger if they do not succeed. Instead, there is a casual feeling, so casual that there is absolutely no question about whether the protagonists will succeed in their mission or not. The movie instead moves at a sluggish pace, with Young unable to hide the fact that there is more padding than substance, such as two blatantly gratuitous musical numbers performed by Trini Lopez. While watching Lopez - and the rest of the prominent cast in The Poppy Is Also A Flower - I was thinking more often than not that it was amazing that the producers of the movie were able to lure all that talent for so little money. But based on the end results, this was clearly one time where the expression, "You get what you pay for," was so true indeed.

(Posted December 10, 2020)

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See also: Interstate 60, The Star Wars Holiday Special, The Story Of Mankind

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