Pandora and the Flying Dutchman

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Pandora and the Flying Dutchman
Flying Dutchman1.jpeg
Belgian film poster
Directed by Albert Lewin
Produced by Joe Kaufmann
Albert Lewin
Written by Albert Lewin
Starring Ava Gardner
James Mason
Nigel Patrick
Sheila Sim
Harold Warrender
Mario Cabré
Marius Goring
Music by Alan Rawsthorne
Cinematography Jack Cardiff
Distributed by Romulus Films (UK)
Release dates
  • February 1951 (1951-02)
Running time 122 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $1.25 million[1]
Box office $1,601,000[2]

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman is a 1951 British drama film made by Romulus Films and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the United States. The film was directed by Albert Lewin and produced by Lewin and Joe Kaufmann from his own screenplay, based on the legend of The Flying Dutchman. It was filmed mainly on the Costa Brava. The land record speed scenes were shot at Pendine Sands in Wales.

The film starred Ava Gardner and James Mason, featuring Nigel Patrick, Sheila Sim, Harold Warrender, Mario Cabré and Marius Goring. The cinematographer was Jack Cardiff. Most of the movie was shot on location in Tossa de Mar, Catalonia, Spain, where a statue of Gardner has been erected on the hill overlooking the town's main beach.

MGM delayed its release until Gardner's star-making role in 1951's Show Boat. The tactic worked, and this film solidified her status as a rising star.

[A film] about a woman unable to love and a man unable to die – a baroque synthesis of classical myth and Germanic legend – Susan Felleman, author of Botticelli in Hollywood: The Films of Albert Lewin.


In 1930 fishermen in the small Catalan port of Esperanza make a grim discovery in their nets, the bodies of a man and a woman. The resultant ringing of church bells in the village brings the local police and the resident archaeologist, Geoffrey Fielding (Harold Warrender), to the beach. Fielding returns to his villa, and, breaking the "fourth wall", retells the story of these two people to the audience watching the film, trying to make sense of the events.

Esperanza's small group of English expatriates revolves around Pandora Reynolds (Ava Gardner), an American nightclub singer and femme fatale. All the men love her (or believe that they do), but Pandora is unable to love anyone.

She tests her admirers by demanding they give up something they value, citing Geoffrey Fielding's quote that the "measure of love is how much you are willing to sacrifice for it." One of her admirers (Marius Goring) even commits suicide in front of Pandora and her friends by drinking wine that he has laced with poison, but Pandora apparently shows indifference.

Pandora agrees to marry a land-speed record holder, Stephen Cameron (Nigel Patrick), after he sends his racing car tumbling into the sea at her request. That same night, the Dutch captain Hendrick van der Zee (James Mason) arrives in Esperanza. Pandora swims out to his yacht and finds him painting a picture of her posed as her namesake, Pandora, whose actions brought an end to the earthly paradise in Greek mythology. As with other men in Esperanza, van der Zee appears to fall in love with Pandora, and he moves into the same hotel complex as the other expatriates.

Geoffrey and Hendrick become friends, collaborating to seek background information on the local finds. One of these relics is a notebook written in Old Dutch, which reveals that Hendrick van der Zee is the accursed Flying Dutchman, a 16th-century ship captain who murdered his wife, believing her to be unfaithful. In the 1500s, his loss of faith led him to blaspheme against God at his murder trial, where he was sentenced to death.

The evening before his execution, a mysterious force opened the Dutchman's prison doors and allowed him to escape to his waiting ship, where in a dream it was revealed to him that his wife was innocent. The next morning, he discovered his ship manned by ghosts, and that for his lack of faith in man and God he is condemned to sail the seas for eternity unless he can find a woman who loves him enough to die for him. Every seven years the Dutchman can go on shore for six months to find a woman willing to sacrifice her life for him.

Pandora declares her love for van der Zee, but the infatuated Dutchman is unwilling to let her die, and tries to provoke her into hating him.

Pandora is also loved by Juan Montalvo, a pathologically jealous bullfighter (Mario Cabre), who murders van der Zee in a rage. But as soon as Montalvo leaves, van der Zee comes back to life as if nothing had happened. He attends the bullfight the next day, and when Montalvo sees him in the audience, he is so horrified that he becomes careless and is fatally gored by the bull. Before dying, Montalvo tells Pandora about his attack on van der Zee, but she is skeptical, though confused.

On the eve of her wedding to Stephen, Pandora approaches Geoffrey, pleading to understand who Hendrick really is. Once he sees the Flying Dutchman setting his sails, he hands her the translated copy of the notebook. On learning the truth, Pandora swims to the Dutchman's becalmed yacht again. He shows her a portrait of his murdered wife and she realizes why the painting of Pandora looked like her; van der Zee was painting from memory. Hendrik explains they were once man and wife and through her he has been given the chance to lift his punishment, but he has rejected it because it would mean the loss of her life yet again. Pandora realizes this is why he has never felt like a stranger to her, and why she has come to him now, unafraid. He accepts her love and they are reunited for eternity. That night, a fierce sea storm overturns the yacht. The next morning, the bodies of Pandora and the Dutchman are found in fishermen's nets. Their destinies have been fulfilled and the curse has been lifted.


In most versions of the legend, including Richard Wagner's opera, the Flying Dutchman refers to the boat, not to the leading male character in the story.

It is believed that one of the extras in the beach scene filmed at Pendine is Dylan Thomas.[3]


According to MGM records the film earned $1,247,000 in the US and Canada and $354,000 elsewhere.[2]


  2. ^ a b The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  3. ^ "Dylan Thomas: First film footage found". BBC. Retrieved 26 May 2014. 

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