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Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

“The measure of love is what one is willing to give up for it.”

A love story unlike any other I can recall finds the stunning Ava Gardner toying with men in a coastal Spanish town until an otherworldly presence in the form of James Mason comes into her life.

This is a tale told in flashback by the wise Harold Warrender who watches the leading players and how love and jealousies tear at their souls. From the onset, Ava is the prize and takes great enjoyment at seeing how far men will go in destroying themselves to win her favors. All men seem to be enslaved to her beauty. When we first see her in a cantina, her current toy drinks himself to death and she doesn’t bat an eyelash. She’ll target Nigel Patrick’s race car driver as her next conquest. All he has to do to prove his love is push his racing car into the sea and she’ll know she’s more important to him. For that he can have her hand in marriage.

His decision is an easy one for he too has been bewitched by her beauty.

Just as Ava surrenders her future to Patrick, a schooner pulls into the bay that beguiles her. Impulsively she swims out to it in the night and boards her to find it abandoned except for a low key James Mason in the captain’s quarters below. She enters like a Goddess has risen from the sea. He seems to have expected her and she’s astonished to see that he’s painting a portrait of a woman that could easily be mistaken for her in ancient Greece.

She’s caught in his web and he in hers.

Warrender who is a historian has an ancient Dutch manuscript written in pen and turns to the Dutchman Mason for help in deciphering it for him. Mason has little trouble in doing so and to Warrender’s surprise, he knows it by heart. The reading turns towards a flashback where we’ll see Mason in another time and Ava as his beloved. One he murders over jealousy. His sentence is death but when he speaks blasphemy at the trial a sentence from above damns him to an eternal life of wandering the seas and only when a woman loves him enough to give her life will he himself find eternal rest.

Into the triangle of love and jealousy comes Mario Cabre as a bullfighter who wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s a past lover of Ava’s and is determined to have her back. She may be engaged to Patrick but he can sense her heart belongs to Mason and in a fit of jealous rage will kill him. Or will he? That’s it, I’m not going any further and be accused of playing spoiler.

This mysterious tale of love finds Ava Gardner looking absolutely gorgeous under Jack Cardiff’s photography in technicolor. I’m not sure she has ever looked so ravishing as she does here. Mason uses his greatest instrument, his voice, to wonderful effect as the man who his has accepted his fate and spouts historical tales and poetry as the plot moves along. His sacrifice is great but will Ava’s be greater?

The Flying Dutchman for me has always meant some sort of ghost ship from the past and that’s probably due to some Saturday morning cartoon I would have seen ages ago as a kid. Might have even been a Scooby Doo episode or Goober and the Ghost Chasers. By the way, that’s a show I don’t think has gained any cult status but I remember liking it as a kid though I recall very little about it now. Anyway, this take on the Flying Dutchman injects a ghostly romantic tale into the proceedings and I found it inventive and one that drew me in thanks to Ava being Ava and Mason, an actor I’m always interested in to see what he brings to a film.

Pandora was produced, written and directed by Albert Lewin. He’d also filmed the popular The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1945 and been a producer on films going back to the Thalberg days at MGM including Mutiny On The Bounty and China Seas. Following Pandora, Lewin would only work on two more films before his death in 1968, Saadia and The Living Idol. Neither of which I’ve had the pleasure of seeing.

If anything, I wish I had seen a pristine copy of Pandora. The DVD I have from Kino leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps the restored blu ray is what I should be upgrading to. Having said that, I’d still recommend this strange tale of love, jealousy and Mason as a wandering soul to one and all.

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