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The Ava Gardner Blogathon: Pandora And The Flying Dutchman(1951)

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This is my entry for my Ava Gardner blogathon being held on the 23rd and 24th of December, 2018. 

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Pandora And The Dutchman kissing on the beach. With the yacht in the background. Screenshot by me.

Watching this film is like entering a vivid dream. The only film that I can really compare it to is Portrait Of Jennie, as both of these films have this dreamlike quality and poetic and haunting atmosphere.

Pandora And The Flying Dutchman is a film that I think you have to completely surrender yourself to for it to work the way it should.

The film is a slow build and it is one that is all about emotion and mood. The film is surreal, artistic and truly beautiful to look at. The story is a mix of romance, mystery, tragedy, the supernatural and fantasy.

I also like how the film can be viewed in two ways. It is pretty clear that the mysterious Captain is the real Dutchman, and that all that happens later is due to some supernatural power or some fantastical element. Yet you can also view all that happens as mere coincidence only, and you can think that the characters believe the legend and somehow make it seem like it has come true.

The film is inspired by the legend of the doomed Flying Dutchman, a man who is cursed to sail the world for all eternity. In this film the Dutchman has been cursed after he murders the woman he loves. The cursed man sails the globe alone for centuries. His curse can be lifted if he falls in love with a woman who loves him so much that she will die for him(imagine having that conversation on a first date!)

The film was directed and written by Albert Lewin(The Picture Of Dorian Gray, The Moon And Sixpence). The film features beautiful colour photography by the legendary Jack Cardiff(Ava never looked more beautiful than she does in this film, thanks partly to the cinematography of Jack Cardiff). Albert and Jack’s vision helps to make this film a real treat, but the undisputed main draw for us in the audience is Ava Gardner and James Mason as the doomed lovers.

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Ava is at her most beautiful and bewitching as Pandora. Screenshot by me.

Both James and Ava totally convince as a couple who are drawn to one another for reasons that they can’t quite understand. When they look at each other they really do manage to capture that something inside them both is connecting to one another.

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Henrick and Pandora. Screenshot by me.

James has a weariness and otherworldly air about him that makes you believe he is someone who has lived through time. Ava captures the reckless nature of her character perfectly, and she makes it seem like Pandora knows she has been waiting for the Dutchman all her life. 

Pandora And The Flying Dutchman begins on the coast of Esperanza, Spain, in the early 1930’s. Two dead bodies are caught in the nets of local fisherman and are brought back to the beach. Some who gather on the beach know who the dead people are and they are very upset.

In flashback we see what led to this sad event. Our guide and narrator throughout the film is Geoffrey Fielding(Harold Warrender)an archaeologist and historian who knew the two dead people. 

                  Pandora with each of the three other men who love her. Screenshots by me.

Pandora Reynolds(Ava Gardner) is an American woman living in Esperanza. She is  a reckless woman, beautiful, adventurous, fun, destructive, seductive and passionate. Many men are drawn to Pandora. One of her admirers(Marius Goring)commits suicide when he realises he will never really have her love. A fearless and passionate bullfighter(Mario Cabre) becomes crazed with jealousy once he falls for Pandora. Pandora doesn’t really love any of these men. Deep down inside herself, Pandora somehow knows that the man who she is destined to give her heart to is not in her life yet.

Pandora becomes engaged to racing car driver, Stephen Cameron(Nigel Patrick), Stephen has her attention and affection until she becomes intrigued by the owner of a yacht anchored off shore. One night she swims out and climbs onboard. There she meets the mysterious Henrick van der Zee(James Mason). She is a little freaked out when she sees that he has painted a woman who looks just like her. As the film goes on we also see that Pandora looks exactly like the long dead woman Henrick loved and killed(who we later catch sight of  in a portrait). 

                        Pandora and Henrick first set eyes on each other. Screenshots by me.

The pair slowly develop a friendship which quickly turns into love for both of them. Pandora’s love for Henrick also changes her as a person, she becomes kinder, more tender and sensitive. For the first time in her life, Pandora Reynolds experiences the mix of joy and agony that love can bring.

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Henrick and Pandora share a kiss. Screenshot by me.

We later learn that Henrick is the Flying Dutchman. The Dutchman realises that the woman who can break his curse is Pandora, and despite his desperation to be free, he just can’t bear to think of her having to give up her life to break the curse. You will have to watch the film to find out what happens next. 

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Ava Gardner as Pandora. Screenshot by me.

I can imagine no other actress in the role of Pandora Reynolds. Ava does so much with this character. She is so ethereal in the role. Ava makes us think that this woman has somehow known all her life that this romance and fate is the reason for her birth.

Ava also makes us both love and hate Pandora, maybe hate is too strong a word because I never fully dislike her. The way that she dismisses those who love her so is very cruel to watch though. Ava performs her role from the heart, she lays bare her soul and emotions in this film, more so than in any other performance she ever gave in my opinion. It’s one of her best roles. 

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James Mason as the anguished Henrick. Screenshot by me.

James Mason conveys a sorrow and desire that makes you want to reach out and give Henrick a big hug. He totally makes you believe that he is this tired and ancient man.

I love the scene on the beach where Pandora confesses her love for Henrick. In that moment James does such a good job of making us see that Henrick so wants to accept her love, but instead he chooses to push her away to try and save her from possibly being able to break the curse.

Henrick loves Pandora so much that he cannot bear to lose her, even if her loss could set him free from the curse. James and Ava have a lovely chemistry and I would have loved to have seen them together in more films. James was never more intense or full of pain and sorrow than he is in this film. His monologue and performance during the flashback sequence contains some of the best acting he ever did, very moving and powerful indeed.

Nigel Patrick(such an underrated actor), Shelia Sim, Mario Cabre, Marius Goring and Harold Warrender all provide excellent support. I love the side plot of the one sided love that Shelia Sim’s character has for Nigel Patrick’s Stephen, we know that she is the woman who really deserves his love. I always long to see a bit more of that couple later in the film. 

I highly recommend this film to any fan of Ava Gardner. She is the heart of this film. Any other fans of this film out there? What do you think of the film and Ava’s performance?

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16 thoughts on “The Ava Gardner Blogathon: Pandora And The Flying Dutchman(1951)”

  1. Really want to see this one–where’d you find a copy? My favorite Gardner performances: “Night Of The Iguana”,”Mogambo”,”On The Beach” and “Bhowani Junction” (another oddly ignored item. Have you read the bio by Lee Server? Good write up, Maddy, oh, and Merry Xmas from Mark in Portland.

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  2. I was lucky enough to see this film a few months ago in HD, no less. It was purportedly considered to be one of the most beautiful films ever made and it is so true. You captured the beauty of this film so well, from filming techniques to the characters themselves. It’s like watching a beautiful dream that you don’t want to see end because you know you can’t undo the outcome. Ava and James indeed made a beautiful couple, complimenting each other so nicely. I honestly can’t wait to each this again. Thank you for a perfect lovely article, Maddy! 😊

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  3. The best part about reading classic film blogs is learning – I’ve never heard of this film and I’m looking forward to seeing it. I’m fascinated by the theme of love unrealised and the contrast of joy and sorrow that comes with being in love. I could imagine the torment of being in love with Ava Gardner! 🙂

    Please also accept my apologies for missing this blogathon. The lead up to Christmas was a very difficult one for our family and all my attention had to be given elsewhere. In the end, everything was okay and Christmas was a wonderful time.

    I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, Maddy and enjoy the festive season. Whilst you are experiencing the cold of winter there, in Australia it’s our summer and we’re experiencing heatwave with record breaking temperatures! In one place it hit 49 degrees!

    All the best for the New Year! Yours in classic film, Paul.

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    1. Thanks, Paul. Don’t worry about missing the blogathon, family and real life are more important. Hope you had a great Christmas. Please send some of that hot weather over to us, it is very cold here but we have had no snow though yet.

      I hope you get to see Pandora And The Flying Dutchman sometime. It is a film unlike any other.

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      1. Thanks for understanding Maddy. Happy to send some of this heat over to you in the U.K! It’s our major summer break so as a teacher I don’t go back to late January – which means plenty of classic film viewing and writing for me! All the best!

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