In the latest edition of MI6 Confidential (excellent as always), there's a fascinating article about the production of The Poppy Is Also A Flower, a UN-sponsored film broadcast in 1966 on US television and given wider release in the cinema in 1967. The film follows UN agents Benson and Sam Lincoln (played by Stephen Boyd and Trevor Howard respectively) on the trail of a shipment of opium from its source in Iran to the point of distribution in Europe, and features a host of Hollywood stars, including Grace Kelly, Yul Brynner, Rita Hayworth and Omar Sharif.
As explored in the piece in MI6 Confidential, the main interest for Ian Fleming aficionados is that the screenplay was based on a story by Ian Fleming (he is duly credited on the titles of the film), and was directed by Terence Young, who directed Dr No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963) and Thunderball (1965). I was sufficiently intrigued by the article to watch the film (available via You Tube), and as I did so, spotted a number of other connections between the film and the Bond series.
Trevor Howard, who was touted as a potential Bond for Dr No, though never seriously considered for the role by Broccoli and Saltzman, was given his chance to play Bond in the film. His character, Lincoln, has some obvious Bondian traits. He is charming, irresistible to women, and an action man, and for part of the film wears a dinner-suit. Lincoln is killed off towards the end of the film, after inveigling himself under a false identity into the villain's circle and surreptitiously searching the villain's yacht (reminiscent of Largo's boat in Thunderball). 'Bond duties' are subsequently taken up by his partner, Benson, who till then has a far quieter role.
The thrilling denouement is set on Le Train Bleu, a luxury express train which ran between Calais and the French Riviera. As if to accentuate the obvious parallel with From Russia With Love (which used the Orient Express), the train sequence includes a bruising fist-fight in a carriage between Benson and an enemy agent, Captain Vanderbilt, played by Anthony Quayle. Here, Terence Young cannot have failed to draw on his experience filming the seminal fight scene between Bond and Grant in From Russia With Love. Curiously, earlier in the film, Poppy features a wrestling scene between two near-naked women, which echoes the gypsy fight also in From Russia With Love.
Among the star-studded cast of Poppy is a familiar face from the Bond films. Harold Sakata, most famous for playing Oddjob in Goldfinger, appears as Martin, an intermediary in the opium trade. And if most of the Italian and French cast members sound familiar (and identical), it is because they seem to have been dubbed by Robert Rietty, who provided the voices for, among others in the Bond series, Largo in Thunderball and Tiger Tanaka in You Only Live Twice.
The Poppy Is Also A Flower isn't a great film – its plot and cast are perhaps overly burdened by the the film's august sponsor and worthiness of the anti-drugs campaign that the film was designed to promote – but it is entertaining enough, and worth watching for the Bond connections. The James Bond films appear to have provided inspiration for many aspects of the plot and characterisation, which was no doubt influenced by Ian Fleming's small, but critical involvement in the project's early stages, and Terence Young's experience directing three of the four Bond films that had been filmed up till then.