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Friday, October 5, 2018

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman ( 1951 )

"The measure of love is what one is willing to give up for it....

....Who said that?" muses archeologist Geoffrey Fielding. He had been observing American beauty Pandora Reynolds, an enchantress who lures men into loving her and then casts them aside when she discovers their love does not satisfy her longing. What is she longing for? Pandora herself does not know. That is, not until Hendrik van der Zee sails into the sleeping Spanish seaport of Esperanza and into her life. 

This mysterious, peaceful, and well-educated sea captain captures the attention of many, but particularly Pandora. Like the Grecian legend, it is he who is the box of delights that Pandora is curious to open and partake of. 

The measure of love is what one is willing to give up for it. The men Pandora ( Ava Gardner ) had dated were willing to give up anything for her. Bullfighter Juan Montalvo ( Mario Cabre ) had scorned his mother - an almost unpardonable sin for a Spaniard - to have the opportunity to spill his blood for her in the bullring. Reggie Demarest ( Marius Goring ) had given his life. He committed suicide. "I felt relieved," Pandora calmly exclaims. Her current beau, racing champion Stephen Cameron ( Nigel Patrick ) is willing to push his car, his beloved hand-built racer, over a cliff to prove his love for her. And yet, Pandora still is not happy. 

"Why don't you come down to earth, Pandora? Happiness lies in the simple things," Stephen tells her. 
It is not until she meets Captain van der Zee aboard his yacht one evening that she feels differently. Perhaps it is the first time she truly feels love and not merely selfish pride over the men she conquested. Indeed, she does become a gentler woman after having met the Dutchman. 

"I've changed so since I've known you. I'm not cruel and hateful as I used to be, hurting people because I was so unhappy myself. I know now where destructiveness comes from. It's a lack of love. It's as simple as that."

But what happens when the object of your love is a ghost? A sailor from the 17th-century doomed to an eternal life.....until he can find a woman willing to die for him. When Henrick tells her that the time for him to leave is fast approaching, Pandora's measure of love is put to the test. Will she be willing to make the sacrifice of death for him?

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is an enticing blend of romance, mystery, fantasy, and tragedy. The story and script, written by the film's director Albert Lewin ( The Moon and Sixpence, The Picture of Dorian Grey ) draws the audience into the dramatic happenings of its characters, all of whom are well-fleshed. The story takes its inspiration primarily from Richard Wagner's 1843 opera "The Flying Dutchman" and the writings of Heinrich Heine, who created the concept of a man who is given a chance to return to earth once every seven years to search for a woman who can redeem him from his bondage of eternal life. 

"I would long for death, but death would deny me!"

James Mason gives a marvelous performance of this enigmatic gentleman and Ava Gardner is stunning, looking radiant in her first Technicolor film. Harold Warrender, who portrays the archeologist Geoffrey Fielding, acts as the narrator to the story and, with his inquisitive nature, becomes one of the few to uncover Hendrik's secret. Also in the cast is the lovely Sheila Sim, who plays a young woman in love with Stephen Cameron. 
Jack Cardiff, who had won an Academy Award in 1948 for his cinematographic work on The Red Shoes, beautifully filmed Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. Cardiff used a limited range of colors, emphasizing navy blue filters for the night sequences and muted tones to cleverly make the bold colors, when they were used, literally pop out of the screen. The racing sequence is particularly well-filmed and edited. Most of the picture was shot on location in Catalonia, Spain, where today, a statue of Ava Gardner has been erected on the hill overlooking the beach. 

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman was a British film released through Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who delayed the picture's release until after Show Boat was distributed in order to capitalize on the rising star power of Ava Gardner. It was a great success at the box-office and justly so - the film has a mysterious beauty that makes it timeless entertainment. Some legends never grow old.

This post is our contribution to The James Mason Blogathon being hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Films. If you like Mason - and who doesn't? - then check out the complete roster of reviews of James Mason's films by clicking here


  1. What a lovely sounding film. Thank you for sharing your review of it. I shall definitely seek it out. -- Palewriter (Gabriela).

    1. I hope you do, and I hope you enjoy it when you see it. It has a nice mysterious atmosphere about it.

  2. A legendary love is hard to resist, especially when photographed by Jack Cardiff.

    My inner realist thinks that the romantics make too much of this "true love" business, but when James Mason and Ava Gardner are involved, my inner romantic smiles knowingly at that other side of the personality.

    1. Well put, CW. "True love" doesn't work for everybody, but these two lives were FATED.

  3. Jack Cardiff was certainly one of the great color cinematographers. For that reason alone, I'd love to see a good print of this movie. Plus, this one featured Ava when she was a luminous screen goddess!

    1. Rick, Kino Video released a restored deluxe edition DVD of the film some years ago and it is a beautiful good as a Criterion Collection restoration. Seeing a movie clearly really does make a difference. I remember disliking The Lady Vanishes the first time I saw it, not realizing that it was because the print was so dark and fuzzy.

  4. Nice review of a most unusual movie! Cardiff's color cinematography is indeed brilliant!

  5. I bet this film is incredibly beautiful, and what a haunting story, too. (Can you believe I'd never heard of this film before the blogathon? I've got some catching up to do!)

  6. Watching this film is like entering a dream. Such a beautiful and otherworldly look and air about this one. James and Ava make me believe that their souls are connected and are calling out to one another. James makes me feel his torment and torn desires in the beach scene, where he realises the woman he loves is the woman who can free him from the curse(at great cost to herself).

    Thanks for joining me to celebrate James Mason.

  7. I read a book called The Winterlings in which a secondary plot dealt with one character wanting to be an extra in this movie - which made me want to watch it even more. And, with your review, the film went up in my watchlist once again.
    Thanks for the kind comment!

  8. Just discovered your blog and really glad I did! I enjoyed your article and it has spurred me to watch this great flick. Have been a fan of Mason for a while and never seen this one. Looking forward to it! Best regards, Paul from Silver Screen Classics

  9. Pandora And The Flying Dutchman is a special and unique film which needs preserving.