Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

“With one bloody blow, I killed all that I loved on God’s earth.”

An archaeologist (Harold Warrender) at a Spanish port town recounts the story of a seductive singer (Ava Gardner) who causes one suitor (Marius Goring) to commit suicide and another (Nigel Patrick) to ruin his beloved race car on her behalf, then swims out to a yacht and becomes instantly smitten with a mysterious painter (James Mason) who appears to recognize Gardner from somewhere. As secrets about Mason’s past with Gardner are uncovered, romantic loyalties become ever more entangled.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Ava Gardner Films
  • Fantasy
  • Femmes Fatales
  • Flashback Films
  • James Mason Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Star-Crossed Lovers

Inspired by the legend of a ghost ship named The Flying Dutchman, this fantastical romance by writer-director Albert Lewin showcases Jack Cardiff’s luminous Technicolor cinematography in service of an oddly unsatisfying tale mixing realism and mysticism, and centering on a self-absorbed but drop-dead gorgeous femme fatale. Mason adds his typical nuance and gravitas to a rather thankless role as a mysteriously ageless man who committed a terrible mistaken deed at one point in his lengthy past and is doomed to wander the seas until he can redeem himself. None of it makes much logical sense; this film is primarily a feast for the eyes, as we’re shown exciting bullfights, a high-speed dusty car race, and Ava Gardner at her most intoxicating in an array of stunning outfits (and one strategically wrapped towel).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jack Cardiff’s cinematography

  • James Mason as Hendrick van der Zee
  • Ava Gardner’s stunning gowns (by costume designer Beatrice Dawson)

Must See?
No, though the cinematography is certainly worth a look.

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


2 thoughts on “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

  1. Not a must see.

    A gorgeously lensed but rather emotionally cold film. Has good performances and is interesting but doesn’t really work. Has no real historical significance that I’m aware.

  2. Not must-see – though die-hard romantics will likely seek it out and likely enjoy it.

    Cardiff’s camerawork is certainly the highlight here – it’s quite wonderful (and Gardner certainly is a knockout). Esp. in his work through the ’40s and ’50s, Cardiff had a genuine talent for visually ‘entering’ the world of whatever project he happened to be engaged with – regardless of whether it was a worthy project overall (i.e., ‘Black Narcissus’ or ‘The Red Shoes’) or a less-worthy one (i.e., ‘Pandora…’ or ‘Under Capricorn’).

    I would think that – ideally – the best camerawork is intended to augment what is *already* a solid film but, in a case such as this one, the viewer is more likely to be left appreciating a lot of pretty pictures with pretty colors.

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