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With: James Mason, Ava Gardner, Nigel Patrick, Sheila Sim, Harold Warrender, Mario Cabré, Marius Goring, John Laurie, Pamela Mason, Patricia Raine, Margarita D'Alvarez, La Pillina, Abraham Sofaer, Francisco Igual, Guillermo Beltrán
Written by: Albert Lewin
Directed by: Albert Lewin
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 123
Date: 02/01/1951
IMDB

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Immortal Beloved

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

There are romance movies and then there's Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. There's just nothing else quite like it. I suppose that you could apply the "magical realism" trend of the 1990s, but even that isn't strong enough. The wispy quality of those movies just doesn't come close to the bold, unfettered intensity of this one. It has no shame; nor does it have anything to be ashamed of. It wanders directly into the realm of the supernatural, but at the same time, it does not actually acknowledge the supernatural. It just is.

Ava Gardner stars as her most senses-shattering gorgeous, as Pandora, a nightclub singer on vacation in Spain. Men fall at her feet, and are helpless in her spell. One literally dies for her, and another -- a champion racecar driver -- pushes his prize car over a cliff for her. But even if she wants to, she cannot love these men back. One night, on a whim, she swims out to a mysterious ship anchored offshore and meets Hendrik van der Zee, a Dutchman. He's an odd character. For one thing, his yacht has no crew, and for another, he just happens to be working on a painting of an exact likeness of Pandora.

Pandora is currently staying with her uncle Geoffrey Fielding (Harold Warrender), a scholar. He asks Hendrik to translate a Dutch text, which turns out to be the legend of the Flying Dutchman. In the legend, the Dutchman kills his wife out of jealousy and is then cursed to wander the seas for eternity. He is allowed to come ashore once every seven years; if he can find a woman who would give her life for him, the curse will be broken. The movie shows us this legend in flashback, with Mason as the Dutchman. And so it goes. Hendrik is a romantic brooder, alluring and mysterious, but has some stiff competition from Pandora's many suitors, including a jealous bullfighter, Juan Montalvo (Mario Cabré).

The director Albert Lewin is something of a minor cult figure, a highly educated New York man who worked briefly as a theater and film critic, rose through the ranks of the movie studios doing all kinds of odd jobs, writing scripts, and eventually directing. He completed only six films of his own. Shot independently, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is the apex of his career, a collection of all his pet themes and concerns. It's an amazing cross between realism and fantasy, between the concrete and the misty. On one end, it's an intelligent commentary on the Flying Dutchman legend, and on the other end, it's a purely emotional, romantic celebration of it. The story is so silly that anything less than this full-blooded treatment would render it ridiculous.

At least some of the credit goes to cinematographer Jack Cardiff (Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes), whose lush, full-color work accomplishes much the same thing, emphasizing both the reality and the fantasy of this situation. It's precisely the type of movie that would require a test of time, and perhaps more than one viewing. Anyone looking for a straight-ahead story would be disappointed; viewers must let go and remain alert all at the same time. But now that it is nearly 60 years old, and so many other movies seem skittish and tame next to it, it's the perfect time to dive in and swoon.

Kino released this movie on DVD many years ago -- and again in 2006 as part of the Glamour Girls DVD box set -- but now they have unleashed a spectacular DVD and Blu-Ray, transferred from the 2009 restoration of the film. The Technicolor shines through and the entire presentation looks like a projected film, complete with grain. The only catch is that the discs do not include optional subtitles. Extras include a restoration comparison, alternate opening titles, trailers, stills, and a short documentary about a Spanish bullfighter.

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