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.