Once again, we’ve come up on a British film in our viewing of the 1001 movies list, and, just like The Lavender Hill Mob, this one benefits from being British as opposed to a Hollywood product.
I won’t tell you the name of the film. Instead, let’s look at the elements. It’s essentially a Greek tragedy of a film, which tells you, from the very beginning, that it ends with the death of the major love interests. It’s written as a melodrama, and one of the characters, a man in love commits suicide five minutes in… and he’s not even one of the two cadavers from the first scene.
So how would Hollywood have treated this one? If you said with a heavy-handed dose of melodrama, I’d have to agree with you.
And then the British came in. For some reason, the Brits seem to be able to take pretty much anything they touch, no matter how plodding and melodramatic, imbue it with a dash of humor and fatalistic acceptance and turn it into a delight. I kid you not.
Today’s subject is 1951’s Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, whose plot stretches the ability for making melodrama bearable to the very limits. And yet, the film is wonderfully watchable, as if the director had studied the challenge, raised an eyebrow and said “I thought you would bring me something difficult” and then went off to produce a masterpiece.
Every moment of this one flows at exactly the perfect pace. It’s not a caper film or an action blockbuster, but it keeps you entertained by combining elements of mystery, love stories, beautiful scenery, questionable morals, a major car crash and even a bullfight. And all along, the actors deliver wonderful performances, understated or overwrought as the case may be.
Of course, it isn’t perfect… the name ‘Flying Dutchman’ is applied to a person and not a ship, which causes some head-scratching (especially for a person who writes and reads as much fantasy as I do), and I, for one, don’t like the framing device of knowing they’re going to be dead at the end. But even with all of that, I watched, entranced, as the magic happened. The garish color of the era helped as well.
An aside for the performance of James Mason, who we’d already seen in The Reckless Moment. Before he became a major Hollywood star, he was apparently typecast as a doomed tragic figure which, given his peaceful delivery and world-weary acceptance is utterly perfect.
Anyhow, very much worth watching. Find it and see it.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose work spans every genre and length. His latest book is, Jungle Lab Terror, a romp through the Darien Gap… with monsters and a mad scientist. Those who like their 1950’s style b-movie thrills with a dose of 21st century literary quality can learn more here.