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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.

Lady L

Ring a Ding Ding

Lady L (1966)

It is easy to forget or perhaps not even contemplate that Sophia Loren was actually a very talented actress because she played so many fun or purely sexual parts. Lady L is not an example of a film that showed off her acting talent in a serious way but it highlights how lively she could be in comedic settings. One cannot help but be jealous of the life Loren’s character lives in this exciting tale of love, crime and wealth.

Lady L opens on the wife of an English lord who is celebrating her 80th birthday. She is highly revered by all around her, and a friend desires to write her biography of the life of which he apparently has no notion. As this Louise (Loren) describes for the writer Sir Percy (Cecil Parker) how she came to be who she is, the man ultimately discovers her story is too scandalous/too moral to be told.

Louise was a laundress for a French brothel, the owner of which is forever enticing the girl to join the crew, if you will. It is here she meets Armand (Paul Newman) who is a master of disguise/anarchist/thief who has just robbed and blown up part of a bank and then disperses the money to the prostitutes of the brothel. Louise climbs into bed with him to help him escape the police and is instantly attracted to the man. The couple runs to Switzerland where they enjoy a poor existence subsisting only on love. Just as Louise learns she is pregnant, she comes home to find Armand pledging into a radical group and being assigned to assassinate Prince Otto of Bavaria. The mother-to-be leaves the love of her life because she cannot abide such extreme crime.

Louise moves on to Nice where she poses as a widow countess and secures a room at a hotel that is otherwise fully occupied by one man: Lord Lendale (David Niven). The two become friendly and Lendale reveals he is on the hunt for a wife and is in need of an heir. He realizes the beautiful woman is a fraud and pregnant before she can reveal it. He also has her agree to marry him provided he will help Armand escape the country after the assassination attempt. Upon their flight via train, however, the young lovers rekindle their romance while Lendale hangs on.

When Armand is finally arrested, Louise stays with Lendale, who returns to his English home after possibly 18 years away to present his wife and child. The two have a happy and wealthy existence but when Armand is released from prison, Lendale offers to build his wife a summer house where she can keep her lover.

The story does a great job of bending our opinion of which lover Louise should choose at various junctions in the movie. Armand is handsome and exciting until he goes rogue, and Lendale becomes a fantastic shepherd for the woman when she is in a motherly pickle.  When the initial couple is reunited however, we cannot help but think that true love should prevail before being glad to see the Lord and Lady start their life. Dressed in corset and the well-covered fashions of the early 20th Century, Loren’s sexual appeal is played to as much of a minimum as someone with such a beautiful face can be. This lends the actress to use her non-physical attributes to win us over. She is an absolute delight, which makes for a wonderfully fun and romantic tale.

Ghosts–Italian Style

Gasser

Ghosts, Italian Style (1969)

     Although it only acted as distribution company, MGM managed to stamp its name prominently on the start of Ghosts–Italian Style, a film that is otherwise totally Italian. Filmed in Italy with an entirely Italian cast speaking English for the American release –thanks in large part to the Italian tradition of post-synchronized sound— the U.S. studio made its presence clearly known with the bringing of this flick to the states.

     Bearing a similar name to Divorce–Italian Style, this movie plays on similar tenants of near infidelity and the permissibility of honor killings and is equally fun. The picture opens on Sophia Loren as Maria and Vittorio Gassman as Pasquale who correspond from their respective rooftops and quickly fall in love. The opening credits are then used to portray the couple’s marriage and fall into poverty as Pasquale, an opera singer, loses his job.

     Desperate, Maria goes to the orphanage where she was raised to ask the president, who is in love with her, for help. It turns out this powerful and wealthy man, Alfredo (Mario Adorf) –who has turned the orphanage into a saint factory– has been anonymously giving money to Pasquale all along, but still would like Maria to leave her husband for him. Meanwhile, Pasquale has stumbled upon a mansion that is rent free and comes with the money necessary to move in. The reason, as you might have guessed, is because it is haunted and several tenants have died therein. Pasquale takes the home without telling Maria the trouble.

     On their first night in the home, Alfredo sneaks in to see Maria and hides in a wardrobe when Pasquale wanders in. During the scene, the wardrobe door creaks open on its own revealing a frigid and terrified Alfredo, whom Maria says she does not see, leading Pasquale to assume it is a ghost. Later, as Alfredo tries to exit the home in full view of Pasquale, he spills a briefcase of money and rushes out. Now, Pasquale believes he is a generous spirit. The story continues as Maria tries to fend off Alfredo’s advances while Pasquale continues to assume this man is haunting his house and giving him money. When the whole story comes unraveled, Pasquale murders his wife, or so we think.

     Ghosts–Italian Style contained nothing profound, but it was a wonderfully fun movie. Gassman is terrific as a nervous, bumbling idiot and Loren is wonderful as ever playing a gorgeous woman of modest income. Loren had a fantastic range in her physical looks. Despite how voluptuous she was, she could play down-and-out women as easily as high class ones, and she frequently did.

     Ghosts–Italian Style also offers a cute cameo at the end by Marcello Mastroianni, who starred in Divorce–Italian Style as well as opposite Loren on multiple occasions. He utters nothing more than a whistle, but his mere presence is worth a laugh.

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