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Boy on a Dolphin


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.



Ring a Ding Ding

Shane (1953)

     After much prodding from Ryan’s father and at least a year sitting idle on the DVR, Shane finally earned the attention of my “play” button. I have never been a fan of westerns, to the chagrin of some, and I am probably primarily turned away by the dirty, hot settings and the general action theme those films tend to offer. I think anytime I watch one, I find myself wondering why people would choose to live in those remote, lawless towns when civilization lies elsewhere in the country –but that is just my perspective. I have been warming up to the genre lately primarily through exposure to some of the better-acclaimed features, such as Once Upon a Time in the West, which I adored.

     Although it will not be labeled as my favorite western, Shane was definitely worth watching. It follows the troubles of a family and a stranger as they push against a gang of land owners trying to stake claim on properties farmed by homesteaders. Alan Ladd is the mysterious Shane who arrives at the film’s start on the property of Joe Starrett (Van Heflin). Joe’s son Joey (Brandon de Wilde) is immediately intrigued by the man wandering through their land, and the film includes the ups and downs of that idealization. Joe and his wife, Marian (Jean Arthur) want the man to stay on at the ranch to provide a needed extra hand and Shane agrees.

     Trouble starts when Shane goes into the very small town to pick up supplies for Joe and he runs into the Ryker gang, which is trying to run the Starretts and many other families off the land. Opting to take the high road, Shane allows one man to insult and threaten him before walking away. The next encounter is less congenial. When the group of homesteaders and their families hit town, Shane ends up in a fist fight against a whole slew of men that he ultimately wins when Joe joins the brawl. Rufe Ryker (Emile Meyer) calls in a gunslinger from out of town who seems to have a history with Shane. To this point, no bullets have flown among the feuding groups, but the threat is imminent, and one overly brave homesteader is shot down by this new villain, Wilson (Walter Jack Palance), prompting other families to pack their belongings.
     What struck me most about Shane was the lack of gunfire for the majority of the film. The old west seems always to be portrayed as a place where duels and gunplay are an everyday activity. The altercation among Shane, Joe and the Rykers is all fists, chairs and other implements, but no guns. This fight goes on for some time and is quite brutal by 1950s standards. It highlights not only what a contender Shane is but how strong Joe is as well.
     We are entreated to very little information about Shane. We do not know from where he came, he seemed to not know where he was going, and we do not know why he is aware of Wilson, having never seen the man before. Shane shows us early on how paranoid he is, drawing his gun at the sound of Joey cocking his unloaded child’s rifle. That mystery persists, however, through film’s end.
      Shane has no lack of great performances. I have been a growing Jean Arthur fan and was pleasantly surprised by her turn in this flick. The normally stylish, squeaky-voiced flirt was subdued and lovely in the supportive wife role. She was far from glamorous but radiated beneath the dirt as we wonder what sort of feelings she might have for Shane. The young boy is also quite impressive in his first role. De Wilde would go on to play the teenage brother in Hud a few years later before dying in an auto accident at age 30.
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