[Film Review] Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman poster

Title: Pandora and the Flying Dutchman
Year: 1951
Country: UK
Language: English, Spanish
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery
Director/Writer: Albert Lewin
Music: Alan Rawsthorne
Cinematography: Jack Cardiff
James Mason
Ava Gardner
Harold Warrender
Nigel Patrick
Sheila Sim
Mario Cabré
Marius Goring
John Laurie
Abraham Sofaer
Rating: 4.7/10

A British fantasy-drama draws inspiration from the legend of the Flying Dutchman, a ghost-ship can never approach port and is doomed to sail forever in the sea, and revamped by writer/director Albert Lewin into a lachrymose romance between a Dutch captain, the selfsame Flying Dutchman, Hendrick van der Zee (Mason), and a drop-dead gorgeous Pandora Reynolds (Gardner), in a fictitious port town Esperanza, Spain.

Pandora is surrounded by admirers, some of them are expatriate Britons, one of them even gulps a poisoned wine and kills himself in the occasion of the first anniversary their acquaintance, to the dismay of her indifference, and she doesn’t even care to raise an eyebrow. However, an unremitting British racing driver Stephen Cameron (Patrick) almost wins her over by pushing his state-of-the-art racing car over the cliff just to prove his undying love, because Pandora calculates the measurement of love by how much a man can give up for loving her (soon she will discover what she has to give up for love as well). They are engaged! But there is an “almost”, it is clear as day that she doesn’t love Stephen, or any other man, including the spunky torero Juan Montalvo (Cabré).

Can she ever love somebody after being created as a perfect specimen of female desirability? Only in the fantasy, maybe, so one night, beckoned by a mysterious ship anchored near the beach, Pandora swims to the ship and finds Hendrick, the sole being on board, is uncannily drawing a painting (a work made by Lewin’s friend Man Ray) with exact her image, there are connections between them far beyond this life, as it will reveal, Hendrick is a perpetual wandering soul on the sea, under the curse that only a woman who is willing to die for him because of uncontaminated, unconditional love, can he be set free from the eternity of exile for his blasphemy and spur-of-the-moment sin. Here, the whole foolish and intrinsically jaundiced perspective of treating beautiful women as the ultimate sacrifice to assuage men’s guilty over their own idiotic wrongdoings, is ghastly behind our times, which tolls the death knell for this otherwise handsomely and picturesquely shot piece of supernatural romance in Technicolor by cinematographer Jack Cardiff, its close cousin should be William Dieterle’s PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948).

The opening, has already given away the forbidding end, and the film is mostly narrated by Pandora’s friend, a British archaeologist Geoffrey Fielding (Warrender), who is in the safe age range to stay as a bystander with a morally superior eye, and sometimes by Hendrick himself, to cursorily introduce his past to viewers, those orations are ornate and over-literary, James Mason has been ill-fitted for the role, dour, ponderous and a complete misfit for Ms. Gardner’s glamour turn, but as it always the case, whether it is Clark Gable in John Ford’s MOGAMBO (1953), or Richard Burton in John Huston’s THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA (1964), Gardner can hardly find an equal worth her divine beauty and unrestrained candor, she is Pandora in real life, that’s a tailor-made star vehicle of her without any question, but the movie only resounds with a disappointing meh, no torrid flamenco, record-breaking car-racing, or corrida extravaganza can save the damp squib.


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