Sunday, September 25, 2011


A colorful, moody, romantic fairy tale which is too long for its own good. On the Spanish coast, an exotic woman named Pandora (Ava Gardner) drives a drunkard to suicide when she spurns him. She then goads Stephen, a race car driver and her current paramour, to push his car, named Pandora, off a cliff for her. He does, she just about has an orgasm, and then agrees to marry him. However, soon Pandora becomes fascinated with Hendrik van der Zee (James Mason), a Dutch artist whose schooner is anchored in the bay. She likes to think he might be the incarnation of the mythic Flying Dutchman, a figure who is doomed to roam the earth eternally. Impulsively, she strips naked and swims out to his boat; coincidentally (or is it?) he is in the middle of painting a portrait of the mythic Pandora in her likeness when she arrives. She's a little freaked out, but soon he has become a member of her band of pals, one of whom is the academic Geoff (Harold Warrender) who has an ancient Dutch manuscript about the Flying Dutchman. [At this point, the story of the Dutchman is told: a 17th century sailor (played by Mason) returns home from his travels, assumes his wife to have been unfaithful, kills her, and is charged with murder. In court, he rails against women (generally) and God (specifically) and is sentenced to death, but on the morning of his execution, he has a vision in which he sees that his wife had actually been faithful to him. He walks out of his cell, is led onto a ship, and is cursed to sail alone unless he can find a woman who loves him and is willing to die for him. Every seven years, he can land for six months in an attempt to find this woman.] No sooner have Pandora and Stephen set the date for their wedding then a celebrated matador named Mario comes to town and woos Pandora. (If you're keeping track, that's three men Pandora is juggling, though Hendrik seems to be the only one she's not sleeping with.) Melodramatics occur, and Mario kills Hendrik one night at his villa. Imagine Mario's surprise when Hendrik shows up at the bullfight the next day. This unbalances him in the ring and he is gored to death by the bull. Finally, on the very eve of Pandora's wedding to Stephen, Mason says he has to leave. She finds out that Mason is indeed the Flying Dutchman; will she venture out to the ship or stay on land and marry Stephen?

Except for the fantasy element, much of this feels like a Fitzgerald narrative about the rootless aimless rich and their careless behavior. Some of the things critics don't like about this movie are the things I like. The film is often faulted for its somber tone, but I think if the proceedings were taken any less seriously, it would all fall apart or become cartoonish. James Mason is very good; the beautiful and sexy Gardner is often faulted as being wooden here, but that's nearly beside the point: it's her face and body that drive these men around the bend, and her sometimes affectless performance is spot on. At a full two hours, the movie is too long, and it seems like when a scene isn't working dramatically, the director just cuts to a close-up of Gardner and all is forgiven. Nigel Patrick is fine as the racer and Marius Goring is good in what amounts to a cameo as the suicidal drunkard. This Technicolor movie always looks good, though on the Kino DVD, the colors occasionally come and go in pulses. If you don't mind the length and the moodiness, I recommend this. [DVD]

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