Up the Greek Without a Paddle: “Boy on a Dolphin” (1957)
Adventure films, which were especially plentiful in the colorful world of 1950’s cinema, generally included the most basic ingredients deemed necessary to draw the audiences away from the newly emerging popularity of the living room idiot box: a smattering of box-office stars, a widescreen presentation to dwarf the siren’s lure of a twenty inch television screen, and colorfully exotic locals which were economically prohibitive in small screen productions. Jean Negulesco’s “Boy on the Dolphin” trades heavily upon all three integrants, yet in fudging on the most fundamental of creative elements- a sound and interesting scenario -the movie emerges as a surprisingly hollow (not to mention, frustratingly labored ) exercise.
Phaedra (Sophia Loren), a Greek sponge diver, unwittingly discovers an ancient shipwreck carrying the eponymously described statuary, estimated to be virtually priceless, or valuable enough to pique the interest of both American archaeologist Dr. James Calder (Alan Ladd) and sneaky millionaire Victor Parmalee (Clifton Webb), who enjoy a familiar rivalry of interests between the legitimate legacy of ancient antiquities and the illegitimate acquisition of ill-gotten historic artworks and artifacts for his own personal amusement. Beyond her initial discovery and once the plot gets underway, Phaedra becomes such a peripheral influence on the narrative, that except for being cast with the comely and provocatively figured Ms. Loren– in her English language film debut -and thus to act as the seemingly required Hollywood love interest, there seems little reason for her continued participation. All of the important narrative developments in the last three quarters of the film, would have occurred with her complete removal from the drama, as the only dramatic tension attempted by the film is in the competitive by-play between Calder and Parmalee; which transpires as a weakly conceived game of cat and mouse in which the antagonists meet only on brief occasions and then only to exchange bits of terse but purposeless patter, of which the script attributed to Ivan Moffat and Dwight Taylor is abundant.
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