Boy on a Dolphin (Jean Negulesco, 1957) 🇺🇸
“I was nearly nine when I fell in love for the first time. I was swept away by a violent, all-consuming passion which totally poisoned my existence and almost cost me my life,” Romain Gary confessed to us in his childhood memoir. This is exactly what could have happened to you if your father had let you watch Boy on a Dolphin, whose deceptive cover led you to believe, as you were about to enter the teenage years, that it was a harmless story about a dolphin. Arguing that it wasn’t suitable for your age, he offered you the consolation of Flipper the Dolphin, the amazing tale of a friendship between a boy and the adorable underwater mammal, a joyous creature and helper of humankind according to the Greeks.
Today it’s his birthday and you’d like to treat him. You’d really like to get away from the same old gifts, the inevitable tie, socks or beer glass. What about spoiling your incorrigibly nostalgic dad with this splendid poster which will plunge him into the past, when he felt the first pangs of love?
Because while a dolphin straddled by a funny little boy invites us to follow in its wake, our gaze is also troubled by the many appearances of the appealingly unclothed figure of the magnificent Sophia Loren.
The fact is that the film is not particularly concerned with dolphins, nor, you’ll be relieved to know, with sharks. The dolphin Loren finds is lying at the foot of a shipwreck and dates back to “Christ’s era” (quick, make the sign of the cross like she does when she finds out!). It’s a gift from heaven for the diver who survives by collecting sponges off the coast of the Greek island of Hydra along with her unscrupulous and lazy friend. The bronze dolphin ridden by a little boy in gold naturally becomes a highly coveted object. The film’s French title Ombres sous la Mer (Shadows under the sea) makes us fear the worst: storms stirred up by a vengeful Poseidon, jellyfish, deep-sea monsters about as friendly as Scylla and Charybdis swallowing up intrepid divers in the depths of the Aegean Sea. But no.
The dives are just an excuse to film the perfect lines of Loren’s body. Water is her element, land her hunting ground where she pursues men. With the grace of a dolphin, she teams up and falls in love with another diver (Alan Ladd, small in stature but a hugely gifted actor) who is eager to get his hands on both treasures (you can guess which ones!) and ends up achieving a double triumph, as we see at the bottom of the poster. Our lovely sponge diver is as beautiful when she’s dripping with water, like Botticelli’s Venus emerging from the waves (an image we can enjoy each time she gets back on the boat!) as when she’s dry, as she tries to seduce the American art dealer (Clifton Webb), a dishonest aesthete who doesn’t fall for her but whose elegant silhouette figures on the poster. Action, seduction, betrayal: the film takes us to the heart of an authentic Greece, beautifully filmed and shot in Cinemascope, the ideal format to display the country’s fascinating underwater treasures and glorious past. As well as the Parthenon, which we recognise on the poster, we get to take a makeshift lift up the monastery perched on top of the Meteora, experience the extraordinary acoustics of an amphitheatre and admire the athletic bodies of Greek statues.
With its horse rides, chases and dives, the poster takes our breath away. So it’s restful to sit down at a table (bottom left) and listen to a love song performed by Loren, who mimes (as well as speaking English in the film she wasn’t going to learn Greek too!) the famous “Ti ein afto pou to lene agape” (“what does the word love mean”) which we find ourselves humming long after we’ve finished watching the film. Equally at ease in the water and on firm ground, her talents as a dancer are indisputable, as her performances of Sirtaki testify. This role might not be to the liking of US lovers of champagne and caviar, but they can see her here in all her glory as a wild princess who eats men – and kopanisti – for breakfast.
This untameable creature is no doubt worthy of a place on the back of a dolphin, just like everyone else who deserves victory. Time for you to be bold and hop on – put this poster in your basket and make your father very happy!
Check out the French version of this article.