Reviewed by DAVID L. VINEYARD:         

THE POPPY IS ALSO A FLOWER (aka The Opium Connection). Made-for-TV movie, ABC, 22 April 1966. Expanded theatrical release, 1967 [?]. Yul Brynner, Stephen Boyd, Angie Dickinson, Rita Hayworth, Trevor Howard, E.G. Marshall, Omar Sharif, Eli Wallach, Jack Hawkins, Gilbert Roland, Hugh Griffith, Marcello Mastroianni, Trini Lopez, Senta Berger, Barry Sullivan, Nadja Tiller, Harold Sakata, Anthony Quayle, George Geret, Howard Vernon. Narrator: Grace Kelly. Screenplay by Jo Eisinger, based on a story by Ian Fleming. Directed by Terence Young.


    “The poppy has no smell, not even the smell of evil. It’s just a ordinary flower, bright, innocent looking; and yet there are many many people who would have to be convinced — and it would take some convincing — that the poppy is also a flower.”

Grace Kelly: Prologue to The Poppy is Also a Flower.

   The amount of tripe written about this big budget made for television film done for the United Nations as an anti-drug project, and originally shown on ABC television in this country is amazing. For some reason it seems to drive some critics and viewers to extremes of near insanity far beyond any problems it has.

   In reality it is a fair action adventure film with a point that deals with the efforts of the UN and the then Iranian secret police to deal with the trade in illegal opium.

   I say any film that features Gilbert Roland as the villain, Rita Hayworth as a junkie, and E. G. Marshall in hand to hand combat with Harold (Oddjob) Sakata can’t be all bad. That’s not to mention wry Hugh Griffith as a opium selling bandit chief, Eli Wallach as a former Mafioso deported from the US, and Angie Dickinson as a mysterious woman getting ready for a shower with E. G. Marshall hiding under her bed is at least worth watching.

   Did I mention the two girls in bikinis wrestling in the nightclub?

   In 1966 that wasn’t something you saw often on television.

   Trini Lopez even sings “La Bamba” and “Lemon Tree.”

   Okay, that may not be entirely in its favor.

   When UN agent Benson (Stephen Boyd) buys up the opium crop before drug king Serge Marko’s (Gilbert Roland) people can he promptly gets killed but not before destroying the opium. Now Marko is under pressure to secure the next supply or be out $10 million dollars.

    Marko’s Manager: Serge Marko is a great guy to work for if you give him what he wants from you. If you can’t you’re dead.

   Arriving in Iran to assist in the hunt for the opium connection is UN agent Sam Lincoln (Trevor Howard) and US Treasury Agent Coley Johns (E.G Marshall) No sooner have UN operative Omar Sharif and Iranian soldier Yul Brynner briefed them on their plan to irradiate the opium* so it can be tracked than Angie Dickinson shows up as Benson’s widow. But Benson wasn’t married.

   Marshall and Howard make a good team with a nice playful attitude and give and take:


    Lincoln: When duty calls …

    Johns: You’re never there.

   Considering everyone was working for nothing the performances are better than they had to be.

   It’s not Oscar material, but it is nothing like the nonsense written about it.

   The dubbing isn’t too good, but that’s hardly reason to have a hissy fit.

   Leonard Maltin rates it a BOMB.

   Leonard Maltin gives three stars to Roger Corman’s The Undead.

   I’m just saying …

   Sam distracts Angie while Coley searches her room which is how he ends up under her bed while she prepares to take a shower.

   Mrs. Benson eludes them but they move on to Yul Brynner’s plan to raid the opium supply held by bandit chief Hugh Griffith and irradiate it, leading to a colorful raid on horseback in the mountains. It’s well staged and exciting shot on location among some spectacular scenery.


    Hugh Griffith: The prophet has said only what is true must be believed, and fifty guns are fifty indisputable truths.

   With the opium irradiated its now up to Lincoln and Johns to follow its trail back to the man behind the distribution, and the trail leads to Naples and deported gangster Happy Lucarno (Eli Wallach) who agrees to help to clear himself of suspicion.

   Senta Berger has a nice bit as a drug addicted nightclub performer, and Rita Hayworth one of her last roles as the addicted wife of Marko the drug kingpin. Anthony Quayle is a South African ship’s captain who is a key part of Marko’s smuggling operation.

   The plot builds to an exciting showdown with Johns and Mrs. Benson trapped by Marko on the Blue Train out of Marseilles to Lyon as they get the evidence from Mrs. Marko that will destroy him. There is a well staged battle between Marshall and Sakata in the baggage car and an exciting chase through the train yard with a final bitter triumphant line for Johns.

Johns: There’ll always be another one to take his place. The answer is miles and miles away — in the poppy fields.

   The Poppy Is Also a Flower moves quickly, generates some suspense, features good location work, and unfolds logically to an exciting finale, pausing long enough to develop the characters of the two protagonists and well done vignettes by Brynner, Griffith, Quayle, Mastroianni. Berger, Wallach, and Hayworth. Considering it could have been preachy, stiff, and self important it is not only better than we might expect, but an exciting international chase.

   You’ve seen better, but you’ve certainly seen much worse.

   I’ve said it before. No film was ever worse for the presence of Gilbert Roland.

   But I would like to know what it is about this film that gives some people such an irrational dose of dyspepsia. It’s not dull, it’s not stupid, and it’s not badly written or directed. But it rubs some people the wrong way to a surprising degree.

   I can understand not liking it, but the reaction it provokes is all out of proportion to any of its failings.

   Maybe that irradiated opium is more dangerous than I realized.

   Or maybe the idea of E G. Marshall as James Bond causes some people to froth at the mouth.

   *  Perhaps the single silliest critique of this one are the countless reviews I’ve read worrying about what would have happened to the poor addicts if they got hold of the irradiated opium. Aside from being so ignorant as to not understand the nature of radiation or that opium is not sold in bulk , but cut and sold as cocaine, heroin, or morphine in doses so small as to make radiation poisoning impossible, the critics seem totally incapable of recognizing this is fiction.

   If a drug addict got hold of a kilo of uncut opium chances are he would have died of something else long before radiation poisoning.

   When did people get so politically correct they worry about non existent irradiated opium poisoning non existent drug addicts?

    No fictional drug addicts were harmed in the making of this picture.