Review: From the Archives: ‘Pandora and the Flying Dutchman’ provides rare enchantment

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Originally published Jan. 11, 1952. A digitally restored 4K version of “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” opens Friday.

In a class by itself as a unique and resplendent creation, “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” helps to begin the new year glowingly for the motion picture.

Starring Ava Gardner and James Mason, directed by Albert Lewin, this eerie blending of earthly impulses with idealism and fantasy opened brilliantly last night at the Egyptian Theater. As an event of strange romantic allure and enormous scenic charm, it should find a responsive audience.


Here essentially is a modern adaptation of the legend of the Flying Dutchman, with overtones of that mythological story dealing with a lady who stirred much trouble in the world when she let loose troubles from their confines.

Lewin in his story and his screenplay adroitly mingles these ingredients, and sets the narrative amid the poetic and flamboyant landscapes of nature and life in Spain.

Known already for his “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and “Moon and Sixpence,” which exploited unusual subjects, he has perhaps struck a richer popular vein in his latest venture, produced in conjunction with Joseph Kaufman.

Certainly he has succeeded in elevating Miss Gardner to the status of a first-magnitude star as the sirenic femme fatale who is the picture’s heroine, while he has also provided James Mason with one of his best latter-day characters.

Only one demerit might be charged against the picture and that is its dalliance, either with beautiful scenery, or mood, or special situation. Off and on the story is halted for peculiar and eccentric excursions of this kind. These sequences are peculiarly interesting and individual in themselves, even though “Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” might be a stronger film without them.

Reissue of the decades-spanning 1951 fantasy drama about a mysterious sea captain doomed to wander the world till he finds true love. With James Mason, Ava Gardner.

Feb. 13, 2020

Stunning is the impression made by Mario Cabré as the bullfighter, Juan Montalvo. He is a real discovery, who could easily be made topflight on the American screen if he wants to toss away his sword and cape for the movies.


He is the jealous rival of Mason. He shoots the eternal wanderer of the seas, only to learn to his own destruction that a bullet had no effect on the life of the man doomed by destiny.

Miss Gardner is an American girl leading her own life in Europe and careless of whom she hurts among the people around her. One man poisons himself because of her in an early episode. Another bluntly disposes of a girl who is in love with him. Even a mature narrator is not beyond her enchantment.

While Miss Gardner may not herself have all the qualities to suggest such an array of effects on the masculine sex, there is no question whatsoever of the beauty of her presence in this picture, and the fact that she appears to capture much of the role’s meaning in the principal episodes. She seems in other words to grow along with the portrayal. It is a good start along a sultry course if she wants to pursue it.

Mason with his imperturbable air manages to suggest an effective impression of a man who has mysteriously lived through the ages, though just what such a personage would be like is probably impossible to determine anyway. However, Mason attains the necessary remoteness that is appropriate to the fictional character, modernly presented, and thus adds much to the effect.

Whatever might be wanting of the illusory is amply supplied by the natural backgrounds so mystically photographed by Jack Cardiff.

To Nigel Patrick, Harold Warrender and Marius Goring go large credits for leveling the action to a more common denominator which is a bridge to its fantasy. Sheila Sim is also good.


To be noted as in the cast are John Laurie, Pamela Kellino, Patricia Raine and especially Margarita D’Alvarez. There are various typical musical interpolations and a very fine score composed and orchestrated by Alan Rawsthorne.

'Pandora and the Flying Dutchman'

Not rated

Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes

Playing: Starts Feb. 21, Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles