Phaedra is a poor sponge diver on the lovely Greek isle of Hydra. While diving, she discovers an ancient brass and gold statue of a boy riding a dolphin, which is said to have the magical power to grant wishes. Her shiftless boyfriend wants to sell it to an unscrupulous art collector, but Phaedra wants to give it to anthropologist Jim Calder, who would return it to the Greek government.
“Restoring priceless objects to their rightful owners. A typical middle class gesture.”
In the 1950’s most films using the new anamorphic widescreen format called Cinemascope were produced in exotic locales. Hollywood was in stiff competition with TV and had to get people away from the living room and back into the cinemas. These films combined adventure, travel, and romance with beautiful scenery that would make anyone wanna abandon the idiot box for 2 hours. Director Jean Negulesco utilizes the Cinemascope format beautifully in showcasing the Greek Isles and with introducing an Italian actress to an American audience in ‘Boy on a Dolphin’.
On the Greek isle of Hydra sponge diver Phaedra (Sophia Loren) spends her days diving with her boyfriend Rhif and tending a windmill with her younger brother Niko. During one dive Phaedra sees an ancient statue of a boy riding a dolphin. Following the drunken advice of a local doctor, Phaedra goes to Athens to seek a rich man to buy it from her. Lunching on the Acropolis, she spots Dr. James Calder (Alan Ladd) an American archeologist projecting smug cynicism every time a Greek wants to sell him a treasure. Phaedra runs into shady art dealer Victor Parmalee (Clifton Webb) and spills the beans on her treasure. Parmalee claims that he’ll will make her rich with the sale of the statue while Calder would rather see it in a museum. (Sound familiar, Dr. Jones?) Under Parmalee’s instruction Phaedra misleads Calder in order for the statue to be moved without the archaeologist knowing. Phaedra slowly falls in love with Calder and is caught in a dilemma of having love or riches.
Okay, let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Sophia Loren’s opening scene in this film sent a generation of young men into puberty back in 1957. Springing out of the water in a clingy wet shirt like a Venus on a half-shell Sophia pushed aside The Production Code and supplanted herself as a sex symbol for decades to come. Like Jacqueline Bisset in ‘The Deep’, ‘Boy on a Dolphin’ is unfortunately remembered for this singular moment. However, Loren’s Phaedra does more than just look ravishing out of the water. A sincere and devout woman, she cares about her island family and is willing to even strut into the fanciest restaurant in Athens if it means getting a rich American to buy her sunken statue. Phaedra’s confidence and humor keep us rooting for her even when she struggles to handle Calder and Parmalee. I’ve seen some of Loren’s later work and even though her acting chops aren’t up to par in this film, it’s great to see that such a talent wasn’t wasted on a wet shirt.
Co-star Alan Ladd comes off as completely wooden and lacking any chemistry during his scenes with Loren. I know much has been written about his casting and attitude towards co-stars, but on the screen it really shows. Phaedra throws herself at Calder and he reacts as passionately as Ward Cleaver would in the situation. His delivery of the line, “You meet me at the taverna and if you're a real good girl I’ll buy you a drink” sounds less like flirting and more like a punishment. Calder is the straight man in this film. Calm, collected, academic, and keeping everyone at length. His nemesis Victor Parmalee played by Clifton Webb is the polar opposite. Charming and laid back, Parmalee responds to an out of control Sophia Loren with “Uncoil, my dear. Uncoil.” like a smooth operator. His “highly extralegal enterprise” of obtaining artifacts around the world has taught him to do his research about local laws and how to imprison a woman on his yacht for a few days without causing a ruckus.
‘Boy on a Dolphin’ benefits mostly from it’s beautiful photography thanks to cinematographer Milton Krasner. Krasner is best know for shooting ‘How the West Was Won’, ‘An Affair to Remember’, and ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’. That last one is great, right? Kino’s 4k scan makes the opening sequences of the film look simply gorgeous with vivid colors and fine detail. The camera slides across rocky coasts, gleaming waters, and rests upon the small island of Hydra making the distinct impression that a narration from Sir David Attenborough should begin at any moment.
‘Boy on a Dolphin’ isn’t a film that needs deep thought or analysis. It’s a breezy gentlemen’s adventure drama with gorgeous locations and an engaging plot you settle into for 2 hours.
Director Jean Negulesco handles the film with confidence allowing the narrative to develop easily while carefully fitting in humor and some light social commentary. Between the photography and the memorable performance of Sophia Loren, ‘Boy on a Dolphin’ is worth rediscovering during a lazy afternoon.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Kino Lorber finally brings ‘Boy on a Dolphin’ to Blu-ray pressed into a BD25 disc housed in a standard keepcase. The Region A Blu-ray loads directly to a static Main Menu screen.
Presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, this 4k transfer for ‘Boy on a Dolphin’ is a vivid presentation of a film already beaming with colorful costuming, scenic vistas, and beautiful people. Detail is strong at times but lags a bit during underwater sequences and day-for-night shots. ‘Boy on a Dolphin’ is a soft looking film, but this 4k scan allows the richness of the colors to sing while preserving the original patina. For those who’ve seen the pan-and-scan TV version you’ll be absolutely blown away by this transfer!
Kino’s 2.0 DTS-HD MA sound mix for ‘Boy on a Dolphin’ handles the proceedings nicely. Dialogue is clear and clean even though most sequences are dubbed. Musical scoring complements the mix well with adequate depth and clarity. Like the film the audio mix is gentle and unhurried with the matters at hand.
Boy on a Dolphin Theatrical Trailer (HD) (2:25)
Five Miles to Midnight Trailer (HD) (3:19)
Marriage Italian Style Trailer (HD) (1:50)
Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow Trailer (HD) (4:12)
Sunflower Trailer (HD) (3:59)
Boccaccio ‘70 Trailer (HD) (2:20)
‘Boy on a Dolphin’ is a beautifully photographed 1950’s travelogue drama that introduced us to Sophia Loren in all her ravishing intensity. Though it’s mostly remembered for Loren’s wet costuming, the film provides a nice bit of ethical drama combined with humor to keep us interested in more than pretty places and pretty faces. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray looks fantastic making ‘Boy on a Dolphin’ a must have for fans and a rental for the curious.