James Mason, Ava Gardner, Mario Cabré, Nigel Patrick, Sheila Sim, and Harold Warrender in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)


(director/writer: Alfred Lewin; cinematographer: Jack Cardiff; editor: Ralph Kemplen; music: Alan Rawsthorne; cast: James Mason (Hendrik van der Zee), Ava Gardner (Pandora Reynolds), Nigel Patrick (Stephen Cameron), Sheila Sim (Janet), Harold Warrender (Geoffrey Fielding), Mario Cabré (Juan Montalvo), Pamela Mason (Jenny), Marius Goring (Reggie Demarest), John Laurie (Angus), Abraham Sofaer (Judge), Margarita D’Alvarez (Senora Montalvo); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Alfred Lewin/Joseph Kaufman; MGM; 1951-UK)
“Lacks imagination.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Intellectual American director/writer Alfred Lewin(“Saadia”/”The Picture of Dorian Gray”/”The Moon and Sixpence”), a professor of antiquities, presents a literary romantic fantasy film based on the legend of the ‘Flying Dutchman.’ It seems pretentious, lacks imagination and has many dull spots, but it’s well acted by James Mason, is pleasingly lush in its visuals, the dramatics are polished and it retains a certain magical quality (despite being unconvincing) that keeps things watchable as a possible dry work of art.

It’s set in the 1930s, in the serene Spanish coastal town of Esperanza (translates as “Hope”). It opens with fishermen pulling in with their nets the disfigured bodies of a drowned man and woman, who possess a copy of ‘The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam’.Tweedy expatriate Englisharcheologist Geoffrey Fielding (Harold Warrender) narrates what happened a while ago that led to this tragedy, as he’s sure he knows what happened but can’t tell anyone.

Geoffreytells of the beautiful Indiana-born world traveler nightclub singer and temptress Pandora Reynolds (Ava Gardner) settling down in Esperanza to live an idle life of ease. Pandora has a rep for leading men on and cruelly abandoning them. One such bloke is Reggie Demerest (Marius Goring), the dilettante wealthy British heir she arrived with, who becomes despondent when she rejects his marriage proposal and dramatically commits suicide while downing in public a poisoned beer. Pandora immediately takes up with wealthy playboy British racing driver Stephen Cameron (Nigel Patrick), who wants to marry the man-eater. But before Pandora consents, she insists Stephen push his beloved racing car over the cliff and into the sea. When he does, she agrees to marry him a month later. Also in the picture is the visiting celebrated Madrid matador Montalvo (Mario Cabré), an old flame of Pandora’s who wants her so badly he’s willing to kill for her.

Pandora spots a newly arrived yacht moored off the shore and out of curiosity swims out to the boat, where she meets the suave but brooding Dutch owner Hendrick van der Zee (James Mason) painting a picture of someone who looks just like her. A friendship grows between them and Hendrick rents a cottage on the shore, and becomes part of Pandora’s circle of expatriate society friends. One day Geoffrey asks Hendrick’s help in translating a 17th Century Dutch manuscript about the Flying Dutchman. It’s the legendary story of a mariner who murdered the wife he believed was unfaithful to him and later found out she was innocent after telling the judge, before he was sentenced to hang, that he was not sorry and then commits blasphemy against God. As a result Hendrick’s given an eternal curse, and is condemned to roam over all the oceans of the world without ever dying. Though Hendrick‘s given an out in order to see if he can learn the meaning of love, as after every seven years he can stop being captain of a ghost ship and return to Earth as a mortal to find a lover. We learn that Hendrick‘s curse will be lifted and he will get salvation in death, if he can find a woman who loves him so much she will sacrifice her life for him.

As Hendrick translates the manuscript, he no longer reads but translates from memory. Geoffrey now realizes that he’s the author, and watches in the upcoming month as the legendary doomed romantic story plays out.

Too bad Ava is not believable as the savior woman, as this depressing but promising ghost story never seemed to hit any highs except for Jack Cardiff’s stunning location shots of Spain.