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Pandora and the Flying Dutchman(1951)
PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN is producer/director Albert Lewin's hauntingly romantic film of the famed legend of The Flying Dutchman. In one of the most sensually rich performances of her career, Ava Gardner stars as Pandora Reynolds, a nightclub singer on vacation in Spain, with whom all men fall hopelessly in love. But Pandora, never having known true love, is indifferent to her suitors' affections. Until, one evening, she swims out to a mysterious yacht and meets its captain - a Dutchman named Hendrick van der Zee (James Mason). Hailed for its brilliant Technicolor cinematography by Jack Cardiff and with impressive production design by John Bryan, PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN remains a wonderfully enigmatic and compelling movie.
For more about Pandora and the Flying Dutchman and the Pandora and the Flying Dutchman Blu-ray release, see Pandora and the Flying Dutchman Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on August 18, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Ava Gardner, James Mason, Nigel Patrick, Sheila Sim, Harold Warrender, Mario Cabré
Director: Albert Lewin
» See full cast & crew
Pandora and the Flying Dutchman Blu-ray Review
Albert Lewin’s dreamy Technicolor romance looks better than ever on Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, August 18, 2010
Forget Avatar's distant planet, with its crazy flora and blue mega-fauna—this is the Pandora you'll want to watch. I can almost guarantee you've never seen a film quite like Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. On the surface, it's a big, mid-century Hollywood Romance-with-a-capital-R, but under the control of writer/director Albert Lewin—a one-time English professor who was friends with famed artists Man Ray and Max Ernst—the film reveals itself as a quasi-literary, surrealism-influenced undertaking, one that takes on a languid, dream-like tone that undercuts its chest-heaving melodrama. The film is a true oddity, combining the magical realism of myth come to life with a setting straight out of a Hemingway novel—the coast of Spain in the 1930s, home to a "lost generation" of British and American ex-pats. It also features deliriously sumptuous Technicolor cinematography by cameraman Jack Cardiff, a master of the medium whose previous D.P. credits include the Powell and Pressburger masterpieces, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes.
Former nightclub singer Pandora Reynolds (Ava Gardner) is the toast of Esperanza, a tiny seaside town in Spain that's home to a flourishing ex-pat community of the rich and would-be famous. She infuriates women because all the men want her, and she drives men to desperation because she carefully, even cruelly withholds her affections. Her slavish lapdog Reggie (Marius Goring), driven to alcoholism over his unrequited love, even commits suicide when she rejects his marriage proposal. (This, immediately after Gardner sits at the piano and sings one of most haunting, sadly romantic songs in all of cinema.) Her latest attempted paramour is Stephen Cameron (Nigel Patrick), a racecar driver with ambitions to break the world's land speed record. In a test of his love, Pandora asks Stephen to push his car off a cliff and into the sea below. He obliges, ruefully, and she agrees to marry him in six months' time. Naturally, however, a lot can happen in six months.
Archeologist Geoffrey Fielding (Harold Warrender), a member of Pandora's elite social sphere, tells her about a manuscript he's recently found—the supposedly self-penned confessions of The Flying Dutchman, a captain who killed his wife after wrongfully presuming she was unfaithful, and who is cursed to wander the seas for eternity. As the legend goes, the Dutchman is allowed to come on shore once every seven years—for six months—and search for a woman who will love him enough to die for him. On the night of her engagement to Stephen, Pandora—obsessed with the tragic story and taken by some mad impulse—strips naked and swims out to a mysterious schooner anchored in the bay, imagining that she might meet the Dutchman himself. When she descends into the captain's quarters, wrapped in a piece of sailcloth, she finds Hendrick van der Zee (James Mason), stoically painting and seemingly non-plussed by her arrival. The portrait he's working on— which, for a bit of trivia, was actually done by Man Ray—bears an uncanny resemblance to Pandora. And yet, the two have never met. Or have they? Could Hendrick be the actual Flying Dutchman? Is the myth true?
Writer/director Albert Lewin toys briefly with ambiguity on the issue, but quickly settles, effectively, for dramatic irony—cluing us into the fact that Hendrick is indeed The Dutchman, but letting Pandora figure it out for herself. Hendrick comes ashore and becomes part of Pandora's circle, and the resultant romance is a slow burn, fraught with misunderstandings and withheld motivations. Complicating matters, and adding to the distinct Hemingway vibe, Spain's most famous bullfighter, Juan Montalvo (Mario Cabré), arrives in Esperanza, intent on winning Pandora over by sheer machismo. There's no question, though, of who is going to end up with whom. From the outset of the movie we know what's going to happen—in the first scene, two bodies are dredged up in fishermen's nets, and Geoffrey, who serves as narrator, takes us back in time six months to tell the story—so the emphasis isn't on suspense but on dawning realization. Pandora, ultimately, is a meditation on the possibility of eternal, time-stopping love, symbolized by an hourglass shattering during the film's climax, a chaste consummation that's more spiritual than sexual.
You get the sense that Lewin was trying to cram all of his interests into this single film. There are allusions to Greek mythology, and ancient statues pulled up from the waters frequently feature in the director's bold, sometimes off-kilter compositions. You have men trying to prove themselves through sport—be it bullfighting or car racing. And the film brims with surrealist imagery and references to Romantic poetry, from the geometrical, Man Ray-designed chess set in Geoffrey's office to quoted lines from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. When the film was released in America, critics felt that it was top-heavy with cultural/intellectual baggage, to the point of capsizing. French critics, however, especially those at Cahiers du Cinéma, were quick to champion Pandora and the Flying Dutchman as a triumph of surrealism-inspired filmmaking.
In retrospect, Pandora falls somewhere in the middle. It's no undisputed masterpiece, but the artistic eccentricities, the stunning Technicolor cinematography, and the languidness of the pacing make for a film that, if nothing else, is sublimely hypnotic. Equally mesmerizing are James Mason, seething with suppressed guilt and anger as the eponymous Dutchman, and Ava Gardner, who is almost unbearably beautiful here. Most critics knocked her performance as cold and listless, and while I'd agree that she was never the most talented actor among the 1950s screen starlets, her remoteness here suits her character, a cruel siren who has been waiting a lifetime—or perhaps longer—to be fulfilled by love.
Pandora and the Flying Dutchman Blu-ray, Video Quality
Several of cinematographer Jack Cardiff's films have made their way to Blu-ray recently, and while Pandora's restoration isn't quite as comprehensive as those done for Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, or The African Queen, the George Eastman House should be commended for a truly stunning remaster. The nearly 60-year-old film looks fantastic here, especially when compared to Kino's murky 2000 DVD release. Given a 1080p/AVC encode and framed fairly closely to its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, Pandora is a Technicolor dream on Blu-ray—sharp, vivid, and relatively clean. Really, the only thing keeping Pandora from looking just as good as Black Narcissus or The Red Shoes is the amount of damage to the print. You'll notice occasional vertical scratches, specks of debris, white flecks, and mild color fluctuations throughout, with the print issues seeming more prevalent in some scenes than in others. Still, you'll be too busy soaking in the newfound color and clarity of Jack Cardiff's cinematography to pay any mind. As the screenshots attest, this is a beautiful, almost painterly film, with intense primaries—like the blood on a dagger or the blue of the sea beyond Pandora's window—and rich, creamy skin tones. The day-for-night scenes have decent black levels and shadow delineation, considering how they were shot, and contrast is spot-on. Clarity too is exceptional, as you can easily make out the texture of the sand on the beach, the intricacies of the bullfighter's bejeweled and bedazzled costume, and fine texture on the actors' faces. The film's natural patina of fine grain is fully intact, and there are no DNR, edge enhancement, or compression problems to report. Simply put, Pandora is a joy to watch.
Pandora and the Flying Dutchman Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Pandora's audio is delivered via an uncompressed Linear PCM 2.0 track that's surprisingly rich and free of the tinny quality you sometimes associate with mid-century movies. Alan Rawsthorne's music, in particular, sounds full and lively, with real presence and depth. The effects—from the deep tolling of a church bell to the roar of Stephen's racecar—are handled well, and the dialogue is always clear and easy to understand. The various elements of the soundtrack are balanced perfectly, and aside from a few crackles and mild hisses, the mix is fairly clean. I defy you to listen to the song that Pandora sings at the piano for Reggie and not be moved.
Do note that there are no subtitles options on this disc.
Pandora and the Flying Dutchman Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Alternate Opening Titles (1080p, 2:26)
The prints for the U.K. market were slightly different, showing a quote from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam instead of a prologue about the legend of the Dutchman.
El Torero de Cordoba (1080p, 17:26)
This documentary, from 1947, is a retrospective for the career of Manuel Rodriguez Manolete, a famous Spanish bullfighter who inspired the character of Maltova, and who died at age 30 from wounds sustained in the ring. He killed over 1,000 bulls in his career, though, so you can't really say that he didn't have it coming.
Comparison of Restoration (1080i, 5:49)
Here, we compare several scenes from an unrestored Technicolor negative with the new restored 1080p master. It goes without saying that there's a huge difference!
Theatrical Trailers (1080p, 2:58, 2:01, and 1:32)
Includes two trailers for the film's original U.S. release and a trailer for the film's 2010 U.K. re- release.
Kino has assembled two user-directed galleries here. Film Stills includes 32 stills and publicity photos, and Production Stills features 32 behind-the-scenes shots.
Pandora and the Flying Dutchman Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A marriage of big Hollywood romance and magical surrealism, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is in a category all by itself. This alone makes the film worthwhile—be prepared to soak in its dreamy, unhurried tone—but there are countless reasons to watch, from Jack Cardiff's evocative cinematography and the script's conscious literariness to James Mason's God-directed anger and Ava Gardner's cold, almost cruel beauty. For fans of mold-breaking 1950s cinema, Pandora comes highly recommended.
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