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BOY ON A DOLPHIN (director: Jean Negulesco; screenwriters: Ivan Moffat/Dwight Taylor/from the novel by David Divine; cinematographer: Milton Krasner; editor: William Mace; music: Hugo Friedhofer; cast: Alan Ladd (Dr. James Calder), Clifton Webb (Victor Parmalee), Sophia Loren (Phaedra), Alex Minotis (Government Man), Jorge Mistral (Rhif), Laurence Naismith (Dr. Hawkins), Piero Giagnoni (Niko), Gertrude Flynn (Miss Dill); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Samuel G. Engel; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1957)
“This was the film that helped launch Sophia Loren as an international sex symbol.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jean Negulesco (“Titanic”/”A Woman’s World”/”The Rains of Ranchipur”) ably directs this scenic adventure story that was shot on location on the beautiful Greek island of Hydra (it was the first American company to shoot in Greece) and its interior shots were completed in Rome’s Cinecitta Studio. It marks the first feature film Sophia Loren made for a Hollywood studio. This was the film that helped launch Sophia Loren as an international sex symbol. But when Cary Grant bowed out and then Bob Mitchum couldn’t costar because of a conflict of schedule, the studio recruited Alan Ladd. This turned out to be a miscasting decision that severely hampered the film. The problem was that the testy Ladd’s only 5’4″ and the buxom Sophia is 5’8″; and besides her towering over him and that he appeared bloated, there was no chemistry between them. While Sophia was earthy, feisty and an eyeful, Ladd only gave a stilted angry performance that just didn’t work. He acted like he didn’t want to be in the film, and in his autobiography that’s pretty much what he said. It was hard to see these two opposites getting together, as the story required, when they were so mismatched. Nevertheless the film worked in a mild way because it was so easy to take. It was both a breezy Aegean Sea adventure over a sunken-treasure coveted by two disparate parties willing to use all sorts of trickery and had a rich atmospheric setting that made good use of traditional Greek music. It’s based on the novel by David Divine and is written by Ivan Moffat and Dwight Taylor.

Phaedra (Sophia Loren) is a hardworking impoverished sponge diver in Hydra who on Sunday while diving for sponges cuts her leg on a nail when she comes across a statue of a boy on a dolphin, which is tied to the mast of a sunken ship. Her lazy, belligerent Albanian boyfriend Rhif (Jorge Mistral) was lolling about on the deck, while she was diving. He has made empty promises to her about marriage when he saves enough money, but she’s not holding her breath over his prospects. She’s mostly concerned with getting financial security for her adolescent brother Niko (Piero Giagnoni).

Rhif takes her to be treated by the island’s drunken English doctor, Dr. Hawkins (Laurence Naismith), who when he hears about her discovery cuts himself in for a third of the share by telling Phaedra she found a rare priceless object from ancient times, a gold (the boy) and bronze (the dolphin) statue that they could sell to a rich collector for a fortune. The plan is to send Phaedra to Athens to meet a rich American collector willing to buy it. At the Parthenon, Phaedra shows the drawing the doctor gave her to a Yale archaeologist, Dr. James Calder (Alan Ladd), working for the museum to preserve the Greek heritage. Since Calder doesn’t really believe her at first, Phaedra runs into the wealthy unscrupulous suave collector Victor Parmalee (Clifton Webb) who steers her back to Hydra in his yacht and cuts an unsavory deal with her. Calder follows her to Hydra, and the virtuous archaeologist tells her its illegal to take Greek national property out of the country and he instead wants to return it to the Greek government and have it displayed as a part of Greece’s cultural heritage. On the other hand, Parmalee wants to keep it for himself and promises to pay handsomely for the statue that he will risk smuggling it out of the country. Poor Phaedra is conflicted over national pride and personal gain, but by the film’s end will plainly have little choice as the arc of the film is about doing the right thing.

Loren’s famous dripping sponge-diving outfit which was devised by Negulesco from a photograph he had of a Japanese pearl diver, became the image of a best-selling poster in the 1950s and let the world see for themselves that Sophia was one sexy actress.

Despite a heavy advertising campaign, Boy on a Dolphin didn’t perform as well as expected at the box office. The critics gave it mixed reviews, not questioning Sophia’s natural endowments for the part but wondering if she could act and almost all the critics had unkind words for Ladd’s disappointing performance.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”