Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

James Mason, Ava Gardner, Nigel Patrick, Sheila Sim,
Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is a movie starring James Mason, Ava Gardner, and Nigel Patrick. A seductive woman falls in love with a mysterious ship's captain.
  • 6.9 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Omar Khayyam, George Barrington, Writer:
  • Albert Lewin, Director:
  • Joe Kaufmann, Producer:


7 / 10

I saw this movie in 1952 when I was 17

I was an usher in the Paramount Theater in Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania when this film came out. That's when ushers were ushers! I must have seen the picture 30 times while working. The picture was not popular at the time -- and I had a heck of a time understanding it. But I do remember being fascinated by the scenery. The film was initially promoted as "Pandora and the Flying Dutchman" -- but when it came to the Paramount, they changed the name to "The Loves of Pandora". I have no clue why that change was made -- but I remember that the revised title as it appeared on the screen was sort of "home made" and not of the quality of a new film. Were they experimenting with changing the name to get more patrons? I have not read anything about this anywhere on the internet. I have always been curious about this picture and intend to rent it to see it now that I'm 75 years old and may understand it at this stage of my life -- a full 58 years after seeing it at the Paramount.

7 / 10

See it for its visual qualities and forgive the melodrama and pretentiousness

Albert Lewin's 1951 movie injects the Flying Dutchman legend into an upper-class English-speaking community in a small port in 1930s Spain. Ava Gardner, never more beautiful and just about to emerge as a star, is the Pandora of the title, a night-club singer and femme fatale, engaged to be married to a gentlemanly racing car driver (Nigel Patrick), but with a hotheaded bullfighter (Mario Cabré) eager to win her.

Enter the Flying Dutchman, Hendrick van der Zee, trying to find a woman willing to give up her life for him so he can gain release from his eternal roving of the seas. James Mason's performance as Hendrick is one of the main salvations of the movie. With his grace, good looks and wonderfully expressive voice, he is able to give credibility to situations and lines that would be fatal for other actors.

But the film's prime asset is its visual richness. At a straightforward level there is lovely Mediterranean scenery, and some great action sequences, notably the flamenco dancing, land-speed record, and bullfight scenes. Then there are quite a few references to surreal art, matching the surreal nature of the film, such as Hendrick's Chirico-like painting of Pandora, and a remarkable shot of her, lying on her back with the profile of her face in close-up, like a Dali painting. (The film is set on the Costa Brava, near Dali's home town of Cadaques.) And throughout, there is Jack Cardiff's creative camerawork in beautiful technicolor. These visual qualities outweigh such flaws as an intrusive voice-over, and the stress laid on the - for me - irrelevant "Moving Finger" quatrain from the Rubaiyat.

10 / 10

Giddy, mad, brilliant

I like to see giddy romantic movies where those on screen lives beyond my wildest dreams, or the wildest dreams of most people. A perfectly delicious and contentedly cruel Pandora (Ava Gardner) here lives the great life, she has both the world land speed record holder and Spain's champion bullfighter after her, both of whom she treats callously. She's a heart-breaker with more than one suicide under her belt no doubt. She lives in Esperanza in Southern Spain, where near dusk there are soul-stirring pine-silhouetted coastlines, with turquoise beams from littoral white-sanded patches mesmerising. Though cruel she's not stupid, she's definitely perceptive emotionally and intellectually, perhaps she may be termed an ethical egoist, or Randian. In any case a very interesting character.

The central message of the film which is very potent is that, "The measure of love is what one is willing to give up for it". For The Flying Dutchman, his Lazarus-like wandering of the globe can only be stopped by his falling in love with a woman who is prepared to die for him.

The movie tries to portray itself as quite clever but at times falters, with a classics professor who cannot pronounce "Phoenician", and quotations from the Ruba'iyat that are a little screwy in terms of context. Additionally the Dutchman's explanation of his painting, which is a clear Di Chirico pastiche (something of a directorial trait following the Gauguin pastiche in The Moon and the Sixpence), sounds less than authoritative. Pandora's response to the Dutchman quoting the ending of Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach suggests that she hadn't fully grasped it, and he only half-grasped.

On the other hand Marius Goring, who is underused, gets a good line from Webster's The Duchess of Malfi: "I know death hath ten thousand several doors / For men to take their exits; and 'tis found / They go on such strange geometrical hinges, / You may open them both ways" It probably helps if you understand that the last line is a reference to suicide versus involuntary death, which requires Dover Notes for me, and perhaps most viewers! Statues recovered from the sea remind one of the beautiful Artemision Bronze, hauled out of the Med during the era in which the movie is set. Archaeologist Geoffrey Fielding is a rather odd sort, buried amongst books and inscriptions and bizarrely aloof from the tempestuous desires of the other characters, though not out of ignorance.

The occasional pseudo-literacy is perhaps at one with what is a Technicolor delirium, a film that maintains its giddiness throughout. And yet although the film is quite the most outrageous love story, Lewin does provide a brief counterpoint, when John Laurie's mechanic, quite wonderfully cocks a toast to Sheila's Sims' Janet when she epically denounces Pandora's way of life at a celebratory dinner.

A feature of Technicolor films, which is always nice to see, is that the directors generally didn't take colour for granted. One trick to show off the Technicolor wares is to have grandiose flower arrangements in the movies, here in Pandora's home. I think the green-gold lining of her cloak is an unusual colour that really ravished the screen. Actually the film is rather erotic at one point (although Fielding's description of the full moon as erotic at one point is quite titter-worthy, mainly due to delivery), just after said cloak is jettisoned and Pandora swims out to the Dutchman's yacht, naked as the day she was born.

The scenes that will remain in my head the most are probably the shots of revelry (coming after the Laurie toast). I think there's something quite Elysian about them, transporting even. The movie manages despite many absurdities (the Dutchman has a 17th century photograph) to hold together well, even with the central absurdity, which is that the love that Pandora has for Hendrik van der Zee, is basically groundless, we're never even shown how it came about.

8 / 10

A must-see for Gardner and Mason fans

There is much to enjoy in this legendary tale. The story is well told and quickly grabs the viewer. I thought the Spanish setting was perfect and the land speed record and bullfighting scenes in the main convincingly shot. The extraordinary use of Technicolor gives the whole picture an almost dream like ethereal look and many scenes have an almost surreal quality. The whole cast are splendid with Ava Gardner particularly spellbinding - I can't think of any actress today who could carry her role as convincingly.

7 / 10

Real cinematic voyage

You must make your own mind up here. This a rare movie but classic discovery. James Mason will disturb you as the Flying Dutchman. Ava Gardnar tries to be the star but Mason will remove you into the make believe world, that is the quality of this movie.

We don't see Mason for a while and we see Gardner a lot but this is a treat for the reasons that movies were made for. Its just beautiful and other comments like 'sentimental' or 'pretentious' are really stupid here.

This is great cinema like it should be. Of course nonesense but this is a world created successfully by the celluloid which is the whole purpose. Brilliant.