Pandora’ Box Contains Flying Dutchman

DATELINE: Legends Collide in 1951 

Director Albert Lewin only made a handful of unusual movies: most of them lost money. He directed and produced too, and even adapted one of his own novels to film (The Living Idol). His most idiosyncratic and stunning movie was the stunning and stupefying Pandora and the Flying Dutchman.

Some critics called it “depressing,” which is like dismissing Hamlet for having a downbeat plotline. This film is now fully restored to gorgeous Technicolor—and it is hypnotic.

This film combined several legends about immortality and damnation. The Flying Dutchman was a sea captain doomed to travel on his ghost ship for centuries looking for redemption. Pandora opened a box of ills to the world, perhaps inadvertently.

When you cast brilliant James Mason as the Dutchman and Ava Gardner in her most beautiful as Pandora, you have something special. They are both at the tiptop of their youth and careers. The film is luscious, staggering in its Jack Cardiff color, lush, outrageous, and over the top in every way. Each scene is beyond anything normal.

When he is Humbert Humbert, Rommel, or the Flying Dutchman, James Mason delivers such a distinctive brand of stardom that he mesmerizes in every moment on screen. Gardner is tempestuous and infuriating, but totally watchable.

 

It takes place on the coast of Spain in 1930 when an American bon vivant (Ava) sees a mysterious yacht anchored in the bay. She is a vixen and monster, destroying men, until she meets Mason’s laconic legend.

Every scene is developed to meet the caricatures of the cast: you have the professor of antiquities who begins to discover Mason is immortal, and you have Marius Goring in a cameo as a drunken suitor of Gardner. You have a race car driver with reckless abandon, and a matador too full of bull.

With its flashbacks within flashbacks, it manages to provide a convoluted tale of 17thcentury fables and the rich of the 20thcentury at play.

How Lewin manages to cram all this beauty, brains, and fantasy into one movie is a marvel.

 

  Sinatra in Palm Springs

DATELINE: 50 Years in the Desert!

 1948 Home!

One of the least frequently used ways to examine a life biography is to study the place called home. For Frank Sinatra, that place was not New Jersey or Las Vegas: it was Palm Springs where he first moved in the late 1940s and fell in love. He was one of the self-professed “desert rats.”

When he commissioned a house, it became a sleek modern style that so fit the area. It soon became a compound, and with his marriage to Ava Gardner, she took over much of its design, including a recording studio within for when he had the urge to sing.

Before long, the social and gregarious Sinatra had many of his show biz entourage there. It was an exclusive place which did not cater to his Jewish friends, and with Jack Benny and the Marx Brothers, they built a golf club that was open to all, especially celebrities. Even Bob Hope soon moved to the Springs area.

The home was the site of famous fights between Ava and Frank, resulting in damage that is now part of the legendary design. After their divorce and Sinatra’s resurgence after From Here to Eternity, he moved about ten miles across town to Rancho Mirage where he stayed for the rest of his life. He is buried in the Springs as well.

Sinatra even allowed his home to be used for Joan Crawford’s house in The Damned Don’t Cry. Later, his new compound had many guest houses for his frequent gatherings. He loved to entertain and be entertained. Only his mother’s death in 1977 in a plane crash on her way to be with him seemed to be a bad time.

Sinatra loved to drive around at night—and frequented many of the well-known restaurants of the area, from the Doll House to Melvyn’s. He had his own table in many—and he owned the town. If he came to your restaurant or bar regularly, you had it made.

In the early days of Palm Springs, celebs could walk around unbothered by fans. It was an increasingly cosmopolitan place away from the business centers of Hollywood, and the Racquet Club was part of Frank’s world.

The word most often used to describe Sinatra was “generous.” He was charitable beyond his moodiness or occasional blowup. Most called him a pure gentleman.

His entourage was not only the Rat Pack, but many stars from different films who vied to be part of this Vegas legend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cassandra Crossing the Rubicon

DATELINE: Old-Fashioned All-Star Thriller

Cassandra

Wow: Ava with Sheen, Loren, and Harris!

You might not believe what you are seeing with this old chestnut of a disaster thriller movie. Back in the day when Towering Infernos were all the rage, some producers came up a loony disaster thriller called The Cassandra Crossing.

A biotech terrorism movie from 1977 features one of those staggering all-star casts and a plot right out of kitsch horror. This time the bad guys are dressed in hazmat suits and are sending a train one-way to oblivion.

It seems terrorists have somehow escaped to one of Europe’s luxury train—and carrying some virus (before computer troubles usurped the idea) that condemns the 1000 passengers to sure death by plague, unless the United States can kill them all by another means to save the world from a pandemic.

The US government will not let anyone off the train. They have decided to send it to a condemned bridge in Poland where it will crash, collapse, and kill everyone.

The killer cast alone is eye-popping:  Sophia Loren is lovingly filmed as only the wife of the movie’s producer could insist (Carlo Ponti joined up with Sir Lew Grade).  Then, you have aging Ava Gardner and her boytoy lover Martin Sheen. Richard Harris is some kind of celebrity doctor, and O.J. Simpson is wearing a priest’s collar and carrying a gun.

To top it off, Burt Lancaster is back at International Health headquarters with John Philip Law and Dr. Ingrid Thulin, to round out the international cast. Oh, don’t forget that Lionel Stander is the train’s conductor.

When the men in hazmat suits take over, they board up the train and send it to Poland, sending shivers down the post-traumatic syndrome of Lee Strasberg as an old Jewish man who starts to relive his trip to a concentration camp.

The film is a bit intriguing as we wait to see Ava and OJ do a scene together or watch Martin Sheen take a knife away from OJ Simpson and let him kill people with automatic weapons.

The real star of the movie seems to be Ava Gardner’s basset hound who is airlifted off the train to be studied for bacterial viral symptoms. This nut-cake movie has to be seen through to its disaster climax at a bridge too far into Poland.

You may hoot too long and too often.

 

 

Mo’gambo: Mo’Gable, Mo’Gardner, and Mo’Grace

DATELINE:  Safari Fun

Mogambo

Mogambo could have been made in 1953 as a movie chestnut with Stewart Granger, Maureen O’Hara and Gene Tierney. The title name isn’t even African. It’s portmanteau.

We might have found this trifle cast entertaining, but it would never have reached the electrifying fun of Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, and Grace Kelly, having at it in the jungles of Equatorial Africa.

Put John Ford in the director’s chair—changing his pace from Ireland and John Wayne’ Quiet Man, and you have glorious banter among stars at their peak.

You may find the beauty of Ava (playing Kelly) and Grace (not playing Gardner) overwhelming. It is topped off with Ava in one of her more delightful feisty roles, bantering with elan, with everyone in the cast. She even finds herself knocked into the mud by a baby elephant as she asks him to stomp on Gable when he grows up.

Some might say that Gable was on the downslide by mid 1950s, but no moreso than Gary Cooper or Spencer Tracy. He is Rhett Butler again, with gray at the temples.

Ford manages to weave his usual magical images with story and character here. Moonlight on the African Serengeti is matched with moonlight on Ava.

This is not one of those modern cartoon movies that directors today must merge with special effects. Life has enough effects for a movie with adults and for adults with a mature perspective.

Mogambo was lost in a plethora of on location movies of the era as Hollywood tried to play against television at the box-office, but the stars here were up to the task of adventure in the remote jungles. Oh, yes, African Queen, King Solomon’s Mines, and even Woman and the Hunter were glorious Technicolor romps—but for pure delight, this one wins, safari, so good.