Published on July 18th, 2015 | by Clint Davis
Pandora and the Flying Dutchman 
Summary: Ava Gardner's stunning beauty is the best part of this otherwise dull flick. She and the film's Spanish vistas shine in technicolor but when they aren't seen it drags.
NR | 123 min.
Director: Albert Lewin | Screenplay: Albert Lewin
Starring: Ava Gardner, James Mason, Harold Warrender
Studio: Romulus Films | Distribution: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Ava Gardner standing amid gorgeous Spanish vistas are the stuff Technicolor dreams are made of–but unfortunately it takes a bit more than that for a great film to develop.
Director Albert Lewin created a 20th Century fantasy tale with 1951’s Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. From that interesting title alone its evident this film exists in a world of legendary fables. Throw in the fact that it also features dangerous characters and death-defying action all set it an exotic locale, and you would think this would be one exciting movie!
But it’s just not.
Our story is set in 1930 Spain where an American woman named Pandora Reynolds (Gardner) lives and wreaks havoc on the local menfolk. While Pandora can certainly have any man she desires, the rub is that she’s cursed with being unable to truly love anyone. Enter Dutch captain Hendrick van der Zee (James Mason) who appears in the local harbor one morning with a large ship, sans crew. After getting to know him, Pandora’s friend Geoffrey (Harold Warrender), an archaeologist, begins to wonder if Hendrick is in fact the legendary Flying Dutchman–doomed to wander the open seas until finding a woman that loves him enough to give up her own life.
As you can see, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is not a film to be taken literally. It’s the age-old story of destined love, while asking the audience what it means to truly love someone. The movie suggests that in order to find true love, personal sacrifices must be made. One might think that’s common sense but in this context we’re not talking about giving up your Playboy subscription or poker night with the guys–these are deep personal sacrifices being offered up in exchange for affection.
First off, Ava Gardner is ridiculously sexy in this film, and to drive home the point that all men are mad for Pandora, she is proposed to twice in the film’s first 20 minutes! However, she won’t even bat an eye in the suitor’s direction unless he gives something up, as alluded to above. Think of this as a sort of sacrifice to the Goddess in return for her fleeting attention. One poor prick even kills himself in a public bar where she sits alone just to get her to look his way–which she barely does. She eventually agrees to marry a race car driver named Stephen Cameron (Nigel Patrick) but only after he agrees to send his prized custom car flying off a cliff into the water below. Pandora is like that chick we all hate who knows she’s really hot…but multiplied by a few thousand.
The fashion this story is told in is interesting in that the fourth wall is broken repeatedly by Geoffrey, as he narrates the film’s action while also being an onscreen player. This helps get the ball rolling during the opening sequence but eventually stops happeneing almost completely. One thing that threw me off about this picture was how nonchalant all the characters seem to behave while zany things are happening all around them. First off, when the fella I mentioned previously offs himself in a crowded place, nobody seems to care and they move right on to their next highball. But the most blasé scene in the movie comes when Pandora swims completely nude out to Hendrick’s ship, wrapping herself in only a loose sail upon approaching him–to which he reacts, “There’s a robe in the cupboard.”
I was unimpressed by James Mason’s performance through the entire film, as there’s a difference between being laid-back cool and simply being dull. From the first moment we lay eyes on Gardner in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, we’re in a trance but after Mason is introduced, he takes up long segments of the film where we don’t see her. The most boring sequence of the movie is when his lengthy backstory is explained via a series of flashbacks accompanied by narration–it was a completely unnecessary 15 minute chunk because Geoffrey had already explained the Flying Dutchman’s legend to us in only 30 seconds.
Conversely, there is a thrilling sequence in which Stephen attempts to break his own land speed record while driving on the beach. This scene showcase’s his (and every man’s) foolish attempts at bravery in the name of impressing a woman. He and a bullfighting suitor named Juan are each more concerned with prideful accomplishments in the face of death than showing Pandora true affection.
Eventually, the doomed lovers get together and there is almost zero passion evident onscreen between them. Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is mostly notable for turning Ava Gardner into a household name and the film is worth watching to admire her and the beautiful Spanish beaches on display in brilliant color. Unfortunately the rest of the film is about as fun to gaze upon as James Mason’s teeth.