Pandora Reynolds (Ava Gardner) apparently worked as a singer at some point but in the film is whiling away her time in the Spanish seaside village of Esperanza, allowing men to stare at her. One of her most determined admirers is Stephen Cameron, a race car driver who is attempting to set a land speed record. After Stephen proves his devotion to Pandora by pushing his experimental race car off a scenic cliff, she agrees to marry him.
While she's agreeing to marry him, however, she notices a lavish yacht anchored just off the beach. The yacht, as it turns out, is occupied by only a single person, one Hendrik van der Zee (James Mason). Hendrik turns out to be the Flying Dutchman of mythology. Hendrik has been sailing the ocean waves alone for some 400 years, cursed with immortality and eternal solitude. After he killed his wife, thinking erroneously that she had cheated on him, he ranted at the judge that all women are cheaters and that he could sail the seas forever and never find one that's faithful. Divine intervention then put Hendrik on a ship, manned by a ghost crew, doomed to wander the seas forever.
However, there's an escape clause. Once every seven years Hendrik can step on land. If he can find a woman that loves him enough to die for him, the curse is lifted and Hendrik will get the death he so craves. Pandora, as it happens, is drawn to the dark, handsome Hendrik. And as it happens, she's an exact match for his wife, dead four centuries.
- All Women Are Lustful: And they all cheat, according to Hendrik 400 years ago. This leads him to dare God to curse him, which God does."A man might have immortal life and wander for all the generations of man, over all the oceans of the world. Let him sail to the end of doomsday! He will find no woman faithful and fair. If this be folly, and upon me proved, then let the Divinity that I reject, make what sport He will—of my immortal soul!"
- Beastly Bloodsports: Bullfighting. Juan the bullfighter is so surprised when Hendrik shows up alive after Juan murdered him, that he drops his guard, and is fatally gored by the bull.
- Bilingual Bonus: The town is called Esperanza, which is the Spanish for "Hope". Hope was the one thing left in Pandora's box after she shut it.
- The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: Juan "kills" Hendrik by throwing his dagger into Hendrik's back, which is way cooler than just stabbing him.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Geoffrey looks straight at the camera in his first scene, as he's remembering Hendrik and Pandora. The rest of the film plays out with him providing voiceover narration—until the last scene, when he looks straight at the camera again while musing on how they may still be alive together in some place.
- Character Name and the Noun Phrase: Pandora and the Flying Dutchman
- Character Narrator: Geoffrey the archaeologist, who just so happens to have a 200-year-old manuscript written by Hendrik.
- Contrived Coincidence: Pretty nifty, that Geoffrey happens to have run across an old manuscript written by someone purporting to be the Flying Dutchman, at the same time that Hendrik is visiting town.
- Driven to Suicide: Reggie Demarest, "who was drinking himself to death" mostly out of unrequited love for Pandora, drinks poison and dies right in front of her. Pandora, who seems cynical and detached about life in general, hardly reacts.
- Flashback: Geoffrey shows Hendrik the 200-year-old manuscript that as it turns out was actually written by Hendrik. Hendrik reads it out, thus narrating the story of how he came to be cursed, as it plays out onscreen in flashback.
- Flying Dutchman: With a twist on the standard story, namely that once every seven years he gets a chance to find a woman willing to die for him.
- He's Dead, Jim: Reggie collapses at the cafe. Geoffrey touches his neck once, then pronounces him dead. And that's it. He isn't even a doctor, he's an archaeologist!
- Hot Gypsy Woman: The hot Romani woman who dances at the local cafe.
- How We Got Here: After the drowned bodies of Pandora and Hendrik are found in a net, the story jumps back to the beginning, as Geoffrey narrates.
- Kick the Dog: After stabbing Hendrik, Juan stops to kill Hendrik's little terrier on the way out.
- Psychotic Lover: Juan Montalvo, the ridiculous bullfighter, who murders Hendrik when he figures out that Hendrik is the one Pandora really loves. He's pretty startled when Hendrik pops up alive the next day after Juan stabbed him in the back.
- Reincarnation Romance: Pandora is identical to Hendrik's wife, dead 400 years.
- Sexy Backless Outfit: Well, it's Ava Gardner, so pretty much every dress Pandora wears is one of these.
- Skinnydipping: How Pandora decides to satisfy her curiosity about the mysterious yacht, by shucking off her clothes and swimming to it.
- Together in Death: The film opens with the drowned corpses of Pandora and Hendrik found in a fisherman's net. Their hands are intertwined.
- Toros y Flamenco: The film is set in Catalonia, and the locals are speaking Catalan rather than Spanish, but we still see stuff like gypsy dancers and bullfighting more associated with mainstream Spanish-speaking Spain.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Most people might be taken aback at the sight of Ava Gardner popping up on their yacht unannounced, dripping wet and wearing nothing but a canvas sheet, but Hendrik merely glances at her and tells her that there's a robe in the guest room. Of course, he is 400 years old and has seen everything.
- Urban Fantasy: The Flying Dutchman is a real guy, and he's taking R&R in a town on the northwest coast of Spain.
- Who Wants to Live Forever?: Probably nobody wants to live forever when the deal entails eternal solitude on a yacht. Hendrik even quotes Revelation 9:6, saying "I would long for death, but death would be denied me."
- Year Inside, Hour Outside: Sort of. Or something like that. Pandora says she loves him and she's willing to die for him. After Hendrik shows her the hourglass that shows they have very little time left, she says that she is not afraid, but she wishes they could have more time together. Then the hourglass is shown to...stop. The sands stop running. Then the hourglass cracks as the storm that capsizes the ship blows up. Geoffrey, picking up the copy of the Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam found with the bodies, wonders if it's some sort of message that Pandora and Hendrik are alive, somehow, somewhere.