For, Nov. 22, 2013

Here's a genuine surprise. One of the films I have been asked about often over the years — as in, why isn't that movie on DVD? — is Blake Edwards' romantic espionage thriller "The Tamarind Seed" (1974, PG), starring Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif.

Although it's been available through as a Korean import, no U.S. DVD of "The Tamarind Seed" has ever been released — until now. Suddenly, without fanfare, it has shown up on a discount (retail price: $9.99) double-feature disc on the Shout!/Timeless label and available through most outlets.

And it doesn't even get top billing. A rather listless made-for-TV remake of Noel Coward's "Brief Encounter," starring Richard Burton and Sophia Loren, has that honor, as you can see by the DVD box above.

But the keeper here is "The Tamarind Seed," one of Blake Edwards' unsung movies of the 1970s, made for a movie studio that had money troubles, and when it eventually dissolved, a lot of movies in its library fell into that all too packed cinematic limbo.

The story has Andrews on vacation in Barbados after a bad break-up when she meets a Russian gentleman (Sharif) and romance blooms. What she doesn't initially know is that he's a Russian agent, and since she works for a minister in the British government red flags go up.

This is much more low-key than today's thrillers, taking its time over two hours to develop the characters so that we care about them, and there's a nice, lush John Barry score — which is an interesting musical choice since Edwards more often relied on Henry Mancini. But Barry satisfyingly evokes the style of his many James Bond themes, especially under the abstract credits with Bond-like silhouettes.

Best known for his comedies, ranging from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961) to the "Pink Panther" franchise (1964-93) to "Victor/Victoria" (1982), Edwards was also versatile enough as a writer and director to develop some fine dramas, most notably "Experiment in Terror" (1962) and "Days of Wine and Roses" (1962), along with the classic TV series "Peter Gunn" (1958-59).

He gives "The Tamarind Seed" a glossy, entertaining sheen and puts the Barbados, London and Paris locations beautifully on display while building up to a couple of suspenseful set pieces. He also gives Sharif's character a wry sense of humor that is most endearing.

But it is the film's romanticism that is the biggest surprise, and it is most welcome in our cynical 21st century.