Friday, September 17, 2010

Pandora and The Flying Dutchman (1951)
UK --- fantasy

Dir: Albert Lewin

On the outside looking in, this film looks like a knock-off of Joseph L. Manckiewicz's classic "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir". It is however far from it, as the former was somewhat romantic comedy, and this film has romance but little humor at all. It is almost an amalgamation of two figures of folklore and myth, drawn together for a union destined for eternity.

An Englishman named Geoff Fielding, recounts the tale of the tragic lovers, after fishermen alert the village of their bodies washed ashore. The beautiful Ava Gardner is Pandora Reynolds, a nightclub singer and fellow expatriate living on this enchanting Spanish port of Esperanza (interestingly enough, the Spanish word for "love" or "hope"). Like many of the films of this time, she is a young beautiful lady who has her pick of men. This lady however seems incapable of true love, as it would appear she's quite the heart breaker. Her current paramour is a successful race car driver, Stephen Cameron. Much to the dismay of an alcoholic long-time admirer, who promptly takes his own life in a local bar after spending his final moments with her. There is also another young lady, Janet, who happens to be Geoff's niece, despises Pandora for her wanton ways, and who really is in love with Stephen.

Later, Stephen asks for Pandora's hand in marriage, she accepts under one condition, that he destroy his race car. They agree to marry in six months, so Stephen indeed does drive his car off a cliff, and they enjoy a moonlit night on the beach, until the mysterious schooner appears. Visiting Geoff, the couple listen to him wax philosophic and tell the legend of the Dutchman, while they talk, Pandora slips away and races out to the sea to pique her curiosity of the ship.

Pandora invites herself on board nude and wrapped in canvas. The Dutchman is named Hendrick van der Zee, here played by James Mason, who brings a mysterious demeanor to the ghostly character without the use of special effects. More by his stoic presence, commanding ethereal voice, and his astutely recognizable English accent. He meets Pandora in the midst of painting a surreal portrait of her, (actual painting provided by surrealist Man Ray) at least her mythical namesake. Hendrick alludes to the fact that they were destined for each other, and he very much knows why, as he reveals the painting also shares a striking resemblance to Pandora. She gets upset and tries to destroy the painting, soon Stephen and Geoff call for her, as she departs.

Hendrick moves into a villa in town, and as he becomes friendly with Pandora and friends. One day Hendrick would reveal to Geoff while translating a dutch manuscript the tale of a 17th century buccaneer and that it is he that is cursed to wander throughout time, landing every seven years for six months until he finds a woman that will give her life for him. Geoff realizes, he's not reading at all, and that he and Pandora are meant to be.

Not long later, like most love stories complications arise. Pandora announces her wedding date is the very day Hendrick sets sail. Another would be lover returns to the island, a bullfighter, in search of his old flame Pandora. He is not only disgusted to learn of her marriage plans, but is observant enough to discern who Pandora's heart truly belongs to, and that it is not Stephen.

"Pandora and The Flying Dutchman" was directed by Albert Lewin, who is no stranger to the subject of immortality, as he helmed one of the better adaptations of Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray". The film was also shot by legendary cinematographer and director in his own right Jack Cardiff, and the film holds up with age as a lavish little gem of its time. It is always refreshing to see a well told love story without all the Hollywood tropes of post modern cinema. This tale shows the character development of a woman who is wooed by men who would give their life for her love, but she ends falling for the one man who already has. One could see the Christian allegory in that one.