Pandora And The Flying Dutchman

Pandora And The Flying Dutchman


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Hollywood has always been interested in creating legends, and recently it's shown quite an appetite for exploring existing ones, but rarely does it bring the two together. Pandora And The Flying Dutchman is an odd beast, combining what is, in many ways, a formulaic contemporary romance (for the Fifties) with the chilling old tale of an undead mariner condemned to sail the oceans for eternity.

James Mason's cursed Dutchman has been told he has just one chance to escape his fate - he must find a woman who loves him enough to die for him. This would present enough strategic and moral difficulties in itself - so why, in the brief period of shore leave he gets every seven years, does he have to lose his head over Pandora (Ava Gardner), a sharp-tongued socialite whose idea of commitment is agreeing to a second date?

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It's an awkward story, but Mason and Gardner make an electric pairing, sparking off each other in a way that brings real conviction to their unexpected attraction. Gardner wears a number of spectacular outfits but we are never expected to believe that the Dutchman is attracted by her beauty alone - in fact, it's often her insufferability, and the strong character it reveals, that seems to bind him to her. Though she's initially attracted to him largely because of his apparent wealth, and her voyage through life is conducted indirectly through the men she manipulates, she is in many ways a character who would not seem out of place today. She has to be, because the stark modernity of her carefully constructed world must balance out the strange, superstitious fabric of the place from which the Dutchman comes. Her rationality bumps up against his shadowy secrets in a curious reversal of the male/female roles usually accorded in romances of this era.

What this film does have in common with its contemporaries is a heavy tendency toward sentimentality, especially toward the end. There, the richly saturated photography serves to highlight melodramatic gestures and give them an almost pantomime air. If you're a romance fan, you'll probably be hooked by then and won't care, so take a big supply of tissues. Other viewers - those there to enjoy the stars' rapport, for instance - may want the tissues to hide behind when certain scenes make them cringe.

It's difficult to present a film like this, so strange in its own time, to audiences today, but by and large Pandora And The Flying Dutchman has sufficient character to make the transition. It remains a powerful experience.

Reviewed on: 14 May 2010
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A man cursed to roam the seas forever can escape only through the love of a woman willing to die for him, but in his brief period of shore leave the woman he falls for is a socialite with a string of admirers and apparently no feelings...
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Director: Albert Lewin

Starring: James Mason, Ava Gardner, Nigel Patrick

Year: 1950

Runtime: 126 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK


Glasgow 2010

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