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Pandora and the Flying Dutchman

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman title card

Year - 1951
Studio - Romulus Films (released by MGM)
Stars - James Mason, Ava Gardner, Nigel Patrick, Sheila Sim, Mario Cabré, Harold Warrender, Marius Goring
Director - Albert Lewin
Writing Credits - Albert Lewin
Music - Alan Rawsthorne


Pandora Reynolds (Ava Gardner) is a beautiful but vain and self-centered American girl living in the Spanish coastal village, Esperanza. When one of her frustrated suitors commits suicide, she barely reacts. Another lover, race car driver Stephen Cameron (Nigel Patrick) proposes to her - she cynically accepts, on the condition that he push his beloved race car over a cliff into the ocean below.

One night, Pandora sees a new sailing ship anchored in the harbor, and she leaves her clothes on the beach and swims to the ship. When no one answers her call, she enters the cabin and finds Hendrik van der Zee (James Mason) a mysterious Dutchman, who is painting a portrait of the mythical Pandora. The face in the portrait strongly resembles Pandora Reynolds.

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman poster

Pandora's friend (and the story's narrator) Geoffrey Fielding (Harold Warrender) has discovered an ancient Dutch manuscript and asks Hendrik for help in translating it. Hendrik is at first shocked to see the document, then begins reading it aloud to Geoffrey. It is the tale told by the legendary Flying Dutchman who, believing his wife to be unfaithful, kills her. He is sentenced to death, but escapes from his cell and sails off with his ship's crew. That night, he has a dream that reveals that his wife was not unfaithful and that he was doomed to sail the seas throughout eternity. His only hope of final rest is to find a woman willing to die for him, an opportunity available only once every seven years. Waking the next morning, he discovers he is alone on the ship which seems to be in control of itself.

As he nears the end of the tale, he no longer reads from the manuscript, but speaks it from memory. Geoffrey realizes that Hendrik is none other than the Flying Dutchman, and feels a sense of dread.

Pandora tells Stephen that he may retrieve his sunken vehicle from the bay and, in doing so, begins to feel free of her need to manipulate men. Despite her upcoming marriage to him, she feels drawn to the strange Dutchman.

Another old lover of Pandora's, an arrogant, famous Spanish bullfighter, Juan Mantalvo (Mario Cabré) returns to his Esperanza home town to visit his mother. Still in love with her, he is contemptuous of Stephen, but soon realizes that the real barrier between them is Hendrik. At night he enters Hendrik's hotel room and stabs him, apparently to death.

The next day, Mantalvo performs an exhibition bullfight in Esperanza. As he waves his cape at the bull, he is horrified to see Hendrik in the crowd, and the bull gores him mortally.

Pandora visits the dying Mantalvo in the hospital and he tells her what has happened. She begins to understand that there is a connection that transcends time between herself and Hendrik. Again, she swims to the ship and tells him that she loves and would do anything for him. He asks if that would include dying for him and she responds, without hesitation, that she would. Later a violent storm destroys the ship, and the bodies of Pandora and Hendrik are washed ashore.

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