Tales of Undersea Treasures: Boy on a Dolphin (1957)

January 31, 2017 | By

The foreign posters were an improvement over the ugly U.S. designs that fitted Alan Ladd’s head on a drawn body sketched by a toddler.


KINO’s release’s of Jean Negulesco’s underrated underwater treasure hunt / romance saga in CinemaScope finally brings this neglected gem to North American audiences on disc – a heck of a wait, since we were teased by TCM in prior years with an older widescreen transfer that likely came from an aborted laserdisc edition.

Like many ‘scope productions on TV during the 70s and 80s, the transfers were pan & scanned using a mechanical system devised by Fox as a means to present 2.35:1 films for TV audiences and their 1.33:1 square sets. Fox actually developed the gear and concept of panning & scanned, but that early incarnation always looked odd.



Classic 2.35:1 CinemaScope image. Wide, spatial, and pretty.


Instead of framing the main and end credits with black bars like non-anamorphic laserdiscs, the credits were stretched to fill the square TV screen, resulting in thin humans, objects, boats, cars, etc., until the image suddenly snapped to full-screen and you were struck with bad compositions, severe film grain (often orange during fades and dissolves), and a mechanical panning motion between chatting characters that moved in pulses instead of fluid left-to-right motions.



An approximation how what a ‘scope film looked when its ratio was stretched to fill a standard TV screen.


Boy on a Dolphin (1957), like many films, suffered that fate, but seeing it in a gorgeous HD transfer from a near-pristine print, and in 4.0 surround sound to boot, is a real treat. My review greatly expands upon the prior that used the grainy TCM transfer & airing from 2008 as a source, and there’s also a long examination of its score, composed by Hugo Friedhofer – one of the great unsung greats.

Those who’ve picked up Criterion’s One-Eyed Jacks (1961) have by now heard his work, and he was one of Fox’s top composers until he drifted to TV, and whatever film projects came his way often failed to mine his gift. Sonically, I’d call his music pre-Jerry Goldsmith (The Omen), but Dolphin represents Friedhofer’s genius for creating amazing colours that still sound modern.

The CD review link is for the version archived at KQEK.com’s old site, because something recently went a little buggy, and WordPress won’t let me pasted the review in a revised template; I can have one or the other, but not both. Go figure.

Dolphin is also part of small sub-genre, the undersea treasure / suspense / quasi-noir / romance in which characters with good intentions are initially thwarted by greedy bastards wanting the entire loot that rests in the hull of a sunken wreck.

SophiaLorenTwo specific entries come to mind (and should be on Blu, if not DVD): Howard Hughes’ underwater bra-friendly Underwater! (1955), billed as the first film in SuperScope with Jane Russell, Gilbert Roland, and Richard Egan; and an utterly forgotten TV movie called Wet Gold (1984) which reworked Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) from the dusty mountains to a tropical sailboat, manned by Brooke Shields, Burgess Meredith, and Brian Kerwin. Not a work of art, but moody, and aided immensely by Sylvester Levay’s synth score.

There’s also The Deep (1977), which is a riff on Underwater, and Into the Blue (2005), a riff on The Deep.

Tales of greed, sunken gold (or drugs), and sexy people in bathing suits will always find an audience. As for the wet T-shirt moment in The Deep, that too owes its inspiration from Boy on a Dolphin. Sophia Loren’s first above-water scenes either slipped past the Production Code censors, or they just stayed quiet… hoping no one would notice.

Coming next: a pair of documentaries on glamorous Hollywood star / inventor Hedy Lamarr.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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