review for Pandora and the Flying Dutchman on AllMovie

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)
by Craig Butler review

Albert Lewin's Pandora and the Flying Dutchman has a tendency to evoke quite differing reactions from people. Those who don't buy into dismiss it as very pretty but pretentious pap, citing its arch and artificial dialogue, its tendency to overstate and then re-overstate the obvious, and a generally florid style as their reasons for not giving Dutchman the time of day. There's definitely validity to their points, but those who can look past these flaws will find Dutchman a strangely haunting picture. It's a pure fantasy, but of the romantic rather than childlike variety, and the simple folkloric tragedy that forms its core is quite intriguing. Yes, the dialogue does get in the way, but even the overwritten style plays a key part in establishing Lewin's tone and mood. And cinematographer Jack Cardiff's sensational work goes far beyond creating "pretty pictures." This is a film in which the cinematography is absolutely essential, creating not just a tone but an actual texture. The riot of color, the use of space, the angles that provoke psychological insight are every bit as, if not more, important than the words that the film employs. Dutchman also benefits from a masterful and absorbing performance from James Mason at the height of his brooding best. Ava Gardner is perhaps not totally up to the task given her; she's much better in the first half of the film than in the second, when she is called upon to give herself up totally to the heightened demands of love. But she is stunningly beautiful throughout, and in Dutchman, that counts for a lot.