Boy on a Dolphin

Dullsville

Boy on a Dophin (1957)

Boy on a Dolphin (1957)

I know what you’re thinking, and yes, Boy on a Dolphin is as stupid as its name suggests. The only excuse one can find to endure the movie is the occasional shot of Sophia Loren in ocean-soaked clothes.

The story starts with Loren’s Phaedra discovering a statue of a golden boy riding a dolphin. The item is noticed while the Greek woman dives for sponges, which her unkind boyfriend Rhif (Jorge Mistral) sells. While underwater she not only spots the statue but gets stuck and mauled by debris from the ship to which the artifact is attached.

Once on land, an English doctor, Dr. Hawkins (Laurence Naismith), cleans a large wound on Phaedra’s thigh and finds an ancient nail in it. This evidence and Phaedra’s tales of a boy on a dolphin lead the doctor to connect the nail to a ship that sank 2,000 years ago, one that carried a statue of a boy on a dolphin. All see an opportunity to improve their financial circumstances, and Phaedra sets out to find an archeologist willing to finance the statue’s retrieval.

In Athens, she tries James Calder (Alan Ladd), who runs a museum there. He initially resists her tale but is later convinced. Overhearing the discussion is wealthy Englishman Victor Parmalee (Clifton Webb), who wants the artifact for himself. Calder sets a dinner date with Phaedra, but Parmalee slides in to steal her away, saying he received a message that Calder would be two hours late. Thinking Calder left her waiting, Phaedra decides to let Parmalee finance the job.

But if Parmalee’s personality did not illustrate his antagonistic role, his intentions do. Despite a Greek law that says all artifacts discovered must stay within the country (because so many have been shipped out to fill museums around the world), the wealthy gent wants to smuggle the statue out to sell elsewhere.

Phaedra reunites with Calder and, on Parmalee’s instruction, takes the man out to dive in every area around her island except where she spotted the boy on a dolphin. Calder eventually gets wise to the situation but he is starting to fall for Phaedra and she him. Calder gets himself a metal detector to try to locate the artifact by sonar, forcing the conspiring group to move the statue to an underwater cave. When Phaedra finally gives in and takes Calder to it, Rhif and Parmalee have moved the boy again.

Seeing the change in her loyalty, Rhif ties Phaedra onto the boat he is using to haul the statue out to Parmalee’s yacht. Luckily, Phaedra’s young brother sees the situation and comes to the rescue. Just as Parmalee thinks he is receiving the artifact, the authorities step in to arrest him only to find the ropes holding the statue underwater have been cut. The picture closes on the people of Greece riding a boat to shore with the statue.

Boy on a Dolphin has certain country loyalty elements to its plot as an American (Calder) fights to claim the statue for the Greek people while Parmalee endeavors to steal it. Calder often criticizes Phaedra’s loyalty. It is to that end that the close of the movie acts as the triumph of the poor Greeks hauling in their historical symbol.

Despite her beauty, Loren always played an equally good peasant woman as a socialite. She does so here –her American movie debut– complete with native dancing. The romance for her character really suffers in the execution of the plot, however. Although we expect her eventual connection with Calder, Ladd’s lack of emotional acting –with a face that looks paralyzed by Botox– holds back that story element. The scenes should have been filled with panting, sunsoaked and ocean-wet embraces and near misses between the love birds, but we never see it.

More than anything the story is boring. Aside from the occasional underwater scenes –filmed at Italy’s Cinecitta– that were probably impressive at the time, the movie lacks anything that would keep a viewer interested.

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One Response

  1. Rachel, I enjoyed your review of BOY ON A DOLPHIN much more than the film itself! Alan Ladd seemed rather wooden; maybe he felt insecure because the ravishing and talented Sophia Loren was so much taller than him; I believe the filmmakers tried to have her stand in a ditch or the like. Maybe it would’ve worked better if it were a decade or so earlier, with Veronica Lake as the leading lady. 🙂 Happily, our Sophia had plenty of movie triumphs from then on. Swell review, as always!

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