Sophia Loren finally made her debut in an American movie with 1957's Boy on a Dolphin. It's a good thing Miss Loren is around because other than her? The movie has some potential but never really amounts to much.
Diving with her boyfriend/fiance Rhif (Jorge Mistral) on the Greek island of Hydros, Phaedra (Loren) stumbles across an amazing find in reachable waters for divers; a treasure from over 2,000 years ago, a statue of a boy on a dolphin that was part of a pair. The other has been found, but this one is completely intact. Looking for a payday to support herself and her brother, Phaedra heads to Athens to look for a buyer for the statue, finding Jim Calder (Alan Ladd), an American who wants to preserve Greek history. She also meets Parmalee (Clifton Webb), a black market dealer who also wants to get his hands on the statue and to pay well for it. Now Phaedra must decide who to help guide to the long-lost statue.
What stands out the most in this otherwise pretty dull flick from 1957 is the on-location shooting in Greece and around the Greek Isles. Director Jean Negulesco shot 'Dolphin' on the island of Hydra but also filmed in and around Athens, Rhodes and Delos. Filmed in CinemaScope, this is a stunningly gorgeous film to watch. Scenes of a car driving along a scenic highway, or a way through the countryside with the rolling hills and mountains in the distance could destroy a lot of other movies as it slows down the story to a snail's pace. Sadly for 'Dolphin,' it's the best thing going here. As a viewer, you feel like you are actually getting the scope and beauty of these locations. I guess it's debatable then whether it is worth it to pursue the film. You would probably be safe finding a 'Tour the Greek Islands' DVD and skipping over the movie.
I was disappointed with the end result because between 45-60 minutes into the movie I was enjoying it. The long-lost, supposedly lost treasure, the poor village girl with a chance to make millions, her seedy partners, the idealistic American, the greedy black market dealer. Throw in the Greek locations, and you've got all the makings of a solid action thriller. Any suspense or tension is lost at about the hour-mark as Loren's Phaedra goes along with Webb's Parmalee and starts to dupe Ladd's Calder. The final 45 minutes are tedious to the point I found myself fast-forwarding through scenes of dialogue. The other scenes? How many times can you watch underwater divers swimming through coral and wreckage on the floor of the Aegean Sea before you get bored? I lost track fairly quickly, but let's say five or so.
Making her American film debut, Loren is a bright spot in this 1957 flick. For starters, her voice isn't dubbed so it's actually her talking in that heavily-accent Italian trying to sound Greek. Her Phaedra character in general comes across as more of a fiery Italian than anything, but minor details. She's funny, she's tough, and she's beautiful. Most of all, she can act though. 'Dolphin' certainly flaunts her physical talents -- like THIS diving scene -- and she always seems to be lifting her skirt up or wearing a shirt that's a size too small. Beautiful she is, but in a fun role, she doesn't let her looks take over on their own. Another bright spot is Ladd as Calder. It's a fun part for him as well, one that allows him to just goof around and be himself. A tad on the wooden side, he still has a decent chemistry with Loren in their scenes together.
That chemistry came at a price though. Ladd stood only 5-foot-6 while Loren was 5-foot-8. Makes for some interesting set-ups when the leading man has to look up to his leading lady. To even things out of sorts, Negulesco went to all sorts of different plans so it wouldn't be an issue, Loren towering over Ladd. In certain scenes together, Ladd was forced to stand on a box so the two stars would be eye to eye. In one particular scene where they're walking on the beach, a trench was dug so Loren could walk alongside of him while filming. Just some interesting trivia. Height differences aside, I thought they worked very well together.
With the rest of the cast, Webb is a villain of sorts, but a gentlemanly kind who isn't particularly interesting. He's up to no good, but he's not menacing in the least. Mistral is solid as the conniving Rhif, Phaedra's boyfriend and future husband, who seems more interested in a big payday than preserving Greek history. Also joining their motley crew is Laurence Naismith as Dr. Hawkins and Piero Giagnoni as Niko, Phaedra's little brother who forms a quick friendship with Ladd's Calder. Singing the title song is actress/singer Julie London which you can listen to HERE. A disappointing movie in the end. It has its positives, but not enough to revisit this one anytime soon.
Boy on a Dolphin <---trailer (1957): **/****