The Poppy Is Also A Flower 1966 ***

Largely forgotten and hard to trace, Terence Young’s 1966 television film to promote the UN’s work is a real oddity; reuniting the director of the original James Bond films with the author Ian Fleming, who provided the outline here, The Poppy Is Also A Flower features an all-star cast in a thriller about stopping the opium epidemic from spreading. Executive produced by Euan Lloyd, best known for his gung-ho action (Who Dares Wins, The Wild Geese), Young’s film is packed with talent, with Terence Howard and EG Marshall the unlikely duo at the centre of the commotion. The ads promised blazing action, but apart from a couple of late punch-ups on a train, there’s very little to cheer, but the story is interesting; spies impregnate a consignment of opium with radioactive material, and trace it to various distribution points to nail the chain. It’s a pre-French Connection policier, also known as The Opium Connection and Danger Goes Wild; fun to watch, if only to spot guest stars like Omar Sharif, Rita Hayworth, Yul Brynner and a scene-stealing Eli Wallach.

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 1968 ****

chittyIan Fleming’s less developed franchise has so far run to only one film; a pity, since Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a strange and rather wonderful piece of work. Inventor Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke) and squeeze Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes) restore an ancient Grand Prix car and head off with some kids on an adventure to child-less domain Vulgaria. Screenwriter Roald Dahl only based the sunny first half of the film on Fleming’s work; the second, a dark and frightening turn of events, is entirely Dahl’s own, and the creation of the Child-catcher (Aussie dance-whizz Robert Helpman) typifies Dahl’s macabre sense of humour. The overtones generally are far too dark for family audiences, but a slew of famous names supporting (James Robertson Justice, Benny Hill, plus many of the Bond cast) plus Ken Adam’s amazing set design and some singable songs make Ken Hughes’s film one you’ll get a Chitty Chitty Bang Bang from.