Boy on a Dolphin
- Sophia Loren as Phaedra
- Alan Ladd as Dr. James Calder
- Clifton Webb as Victor Parmalee
- Jorge Mistral as Rhif
An imperfect adventure yarn that is sometimes packed with fun and at other times slow-moving in the extreme, Boy on a Dolphin gains agreeable points from the stirring music, luscious location work of Greece and a gorgeous Sophia Loren.
In Greece, the beautiful but poor Phaedra is a sponge diver who lives in a ramshackle windmill with her kid brother and lousy boyfriend Rhif, who is something of a lay about who promises they’ll be fine all the time but never seems to do a lot to help. For the spirited Phaedra, she just goes by each day attempting to provide for herself and those closest in any way she can. Then one day while diving off the island of Hydra, she discovers a dazzling statue of gold, depicting a boy riding a dolphin. The statue is situated at the bottom of the Aegean Sea and is thousands of years old, having been on a ship that crashed during a stormy voyage. For Phaedra, her accidental unearthing of the treasure gives her cause to use it to finally gather some money and not have her worries. Along with Rhif, she takes it to many people who could sell the statue, but two stand out the most. The two are the honest and hardworking Dr. James Calder, who works an archaeologist and the deceptive and slimy collector Victor Parmalee. Both men express interest in Phaedra’s find but for differing reasons; Calder wants the statue to put in a museum in Greece, whole Parmalee wants all the glory and money that will go with the discovery. Into this power struggle comes Phaedra, who can’t decide whether she wants the allure of money or genuine love, as she develops feelings for Calder. A race to discover the statue of the title ensues between Calder and Parmalee, that becomes ever more difficult due to Phaedra being in the middle of it all and having to choose where her loyalties lie.
On the whole, Boy on the Dolphin is a somewhat messy exercise but nonetheless has enjoyable moments and things to praise. The main problem rests with the script and the pacing which go from being exciting to dull over the course of the film. The script has the sense of adventure right, but in the parts in between, some of the material is a little superfluous and could have been cut. The same goes for the pacing that needs a fixer upper on occasion as it lurches between two extremes. Yet once the pace picks up and the cat and mouse game between the two men entangled with Phaedra commences, a good adventure yarn emerges from the flawed premise. Also on the positive side, Jean Negulesco at least makes the film stunningly shot and keeps us engaged through showing us the sheer beauty of Greece. Basked in glorious sunshine and filled with some gorgeous underwater scenes, Boy on a Dolphin stays afloat when it comes to the visual front. And the score provides the perfect romantic and dreamy backdrop of the piece with a lilting wind section and trembling guitar. There is also a sublime song that covers the aquatic opening titles that is filled with romance, intrigue and temptation.
Although her role, which was her first in the English language, doesn’t require much in the way of stretching acting muscles, the beautiful Sophia Loren makes a stunning impression with earthy sex appeal, volatility and feisty demeanor. Soaring above the flawed writing, Loren makes sultry and determined, bringing much more to the character than the script asked for. And I can’t review this film without mentioning Loren’s dazzling entrance into it. Pulling herself out of the sea after one of her many dives for sponges, she climbs onto a boat, clad in a flimsy, orange dress that accentuates her breathtaking beauty and curvaceous figure. It’s a sexy entrance for one of cinema’s most gorgeous stars. While I do think that Alan Ladd is a good actor, his role of archaeologist Calder is not his best and Ladd appears seemingly indifferent to the character. He’s not all bad here showing moments of good, but he appears to be more than a little stiff in the part. Clifton Webb fares much better at playing the oily Parmalee, who is unscrupulous and used to getting what he wants. He adds a good dose of underlying nastiness to the role that is hard to miss. Jorge Mistral does his best at making Rhif a louse who is more of a hindrance to Phaedra than a helper.
A movie that veers between thrilling adventure and boring spectacle, Boy on a Dolphin still retains something of an enjoyable factor and features the sensual Sophia Loren announcing her star appeal.