Blu-ray Review: Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

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As it turns out, it wasn't just Frank Sinatra that Ava Gardner had a passionately powerful hold over. As the aptly named irresistible and insatiable game-playing Pandora in film critic turned director Albert Lewin's recently restored 1951 mythological inspired gothic romance, Gardner's selfish beauty is the most coveted American expatriate currently residing in Esperanza, Spain.

Although it's bookended by the same tragedy, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is narrated by one of its main characters – Geoffrey (Harold Warrender) – whose voice-over leads us into the film's main extended flashback which introduce us to the circle of men and one unfortunate woman who all gravitate to the dark-haired beauty.

A rather wicked, unforgivable, morally flexible tease, Pandora is eagerly willing to lead men on without regard to whether or not they're doted on by another as in the case of Stephen (Nigel Patrick) or weakened by alcoholism as embodied by the film's first identifiable casualty Reggie (Marius Goring) who kills himself because Pandora is incapable of returning his affection.

Yet although Reggie is the first to die for love – or something more akin to lust drunk obsessive idealism over Pandora – he's definitely not the last man who gives up his life for a woman who honestly would never be able to do the same for anyone else.

Predictably she enjoys the sway she holds over men including race car driver Stephen who gleefully hurls his cherished automobile over a cliff to sacrifice what she deemed was her only rival for his heart in order to win her hand in marriage.

Still it's a rather transient victory since the very same night she promises to wed Stephen, Pandora finds herself strangely drawn to the appearance of a mysterious yacht that's rumored to be a ghost ship occupied by the legendary sixteenth century flying Dutchman who's been cursed to live for eternity unless he can find the one woman who will love him enough to die for him.

Impulsively stripping in the moonlight and swimming in the nude towards the vessel owned by Dutch captain Hendrick van der Zee (James Mason), Pandora is stunned to find that he greets her coolly as if he was nearly expecting the stranger to arrive on his boat... only to discover that in fact they might not be strangers at all when the canvas that Hendrick is lovingly painting reveals a woman bearing Pandora's exact face.

Provocative, sumptuous and grandly executed with exquisite Technicolor photography by The Red Shoes cinematographer Jack Cardiff, Lewin's film begins as a fascinating reverie that despite being predictably doomed for literary tragedy on the level of both the Pandora and Dutchman myths manages nonetheless to hook us thanks to the painterly and welcomingly poetic approach.

However, after Mason's character becomes a member of Pandora's inner circle and his past comes hurtling forward in a rather overly classically stylized flashback within a flashback which goes on for so long, it screeches the film to a halt. Tragically, Pandora suffers from this misstep and temporary loss of focus, never quite managing to wake us up from the movie's pacing and tonal slumber which oddly fits since it is after all intentionally dream-like.

By shifting main characters uneasily from Gardner's Pandora to Mason's Hendrick, the film by director and screenwriter Lewin never seems confident about whose story he most wants to tell. Additionally it is further challenged by the fact that not only are the myths incredibly bizarre, pretentious and overly melodramatic by their very nature but also because neither character in the work is particularly likable.

Nonetheless Lewin's feature is captured in a stunning Blu-ray restoration that's presented in its original full screen aspect ratio from Kino International that overcomes a surprisingly weak HD audio soundtrack. Tragically however, from a storytelling perspective Pandora's overly long 123 minute running time never fully manages to match the luscious beauty of its leading lady or Spanish scenery in a way that will prevent most viewers from reaching for the eject button within the first hour of the film.

Recommended only for Gardner's most ardent admirers who are as hopelessly devoted to the star as the men in the film, Pandora is memorable from a cinematographic standpoint as well as for filling the frame with gorgeous eye candy with regard to its breathtaking costume design but ultimately, the movie's beauty remains completely on the surface.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.