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Ava Gardner and James Mason star as the title characters in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman

Quad Cinema
34 West 13th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Opens Friday, February 7

Writer, director, and producer Albert Lewin transports a seventeenth-century legend to a 1930s fishing village on the Mediterranean coast of Spain in 1951’s Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, which now can be seen in a lush and lascivious 4K restoration at the Quad. Douglas Sirk meets Ernest Hemingway in the Technicolor melodrama, lavishly photographed by Jack Cardiff and narrated in flashback by dilettante archaeologist and historian Geoffrey Fielding (Harold Warrender), who occasionally addresses the audience directly. Ava Gardner stars as Pandora, a spectacularly beautiful femme fatale who is loved by many men but is unable to experience true love herself. A fiery, unpredictable woman, she is chased by milquetoast gadfly Reggie Demarest (Marius Goring), champion racecar driver Stephen Cameron (Nigel Patrick), and bullfighter Juan Montalvo (Mario Cabré) — even Geoffrey is deeply attracted to her but doesn’t profess his desire openly. She basically toys with them, reveling in the admiration but taking advantage of the men, insisting they make sacrifices in order to be with her. “The measure of love is what one is willing to give up for it,” Geoffrey says several times.

When the mysterious Hendrik van der Zee (James Mason) arrives on his yacht, apparently without any crew, Pandora is immediately intrigued. She swims out naked to him and finds him working on a surrealist painting of a woman who looks remarkably like her. (The de Chirico-like canvas was painted by scenic artist and art director Ferdinand Bellan, inspired by Man Ray, a close friend of Lewin’s who served as an on-set photographer, designed the chess set in the film, and painted a portrait of Gardner that is not shown, although a small photo he took of her is seen.) When Geoffrey begins to suspect that Hendrik may be the Flying Dutchman of legend, a ship captain who killed his wife in a jealous rage and is condemned to roam the seas, seeking a woman who will be willing to die for his love so he can break free of his cursed existence, Pandora becomes even more entranced, which does not make her other suitors very happy.

Ava Gardner poses for a photo by on-set photographer Man Ray on the Spanish coast

Ava Gardner poses for a photo by on-set photographer Man Ray on the Spanish coast

Cardiff (The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus) has a field day with Gardner, who is captivatingly seductive in Beatrice Dawson’s spectacular costumes, giving Rita Hayworth’s hair flip in Gilda a run for its money. In the restoration, done by the Cohen Media Group and the George Eastman Museum’s Film Preservation Services using a print owned by Martin Scorsese as reference, she is even more like a Greek goddess; in fact, her character is named after the first human woman created by Hephaestus at an angry Zeus’s command, and she is armed with a container that holds all the world’s evil. “From her is the race of women and female kind: / of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who / live amongst mortal men to their great trouble, / no helpmates in hateful poverty, but only in wealth,” the poet Hesiod wrote of Pandora nearly three thousand years ago. Meanwhile, Ray said of Gardner, “She was absolutely ravishing. No film, I thought, had ever done her justice. And as a model, no one with my experience with mannequins and professionals surpassed her.” There are a pair of ancient-looking statues in the film that Pandora passes by; Ray took a famous glamour shot of Gardner posing next to one of them, and a statue of Gardner stands in Tossa de Mar, where much of the film was shot.

Just as Pandora has her lovers, so did Gardner, who was twenty-eight when Pandora was released. She reportedly had an affair with Cabré, a real-life toreador, while making the movie, causing her soon-to-be third husband, Frank Sinatra, to come to Spain to fight for her. It’s a Hemingway-esque twist in a film filled with Papa mannerisms; Gardner, a close friend of Hemingway’s, had previously appeared in The Killers and would go on to star in The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Sun Also Rises, all based on Hemingway works. In addition, she once swam naked in Hemingway’s Havana pool, after which Papa supposedly ordered his staff, “The water is not to be emptied.”

Gardner and Mason are an impassioned duo in Pandora, their potential romance bathed in a haunting surrealism. Brooklyn-born Irving Thalberg protégé Lewin directed only five other films in his career, including The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Moon in Sixpence; he passed away in New York City in 1968 at the age of seventy-three, having also written a forgotten novel, The Unaltered Cat, about a man married to a were-cat. The jacket features a painting by Man Ray.

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