Boy on a Dolphin (1957): First American Movie Starring Sex Goddess Sophia Loren, with Alan Ladd

Italian sex goddess Sophia Loren made her American film debut in 1957, age 23, with Boy on a Dolphin, a lush and glossy romantic adventure. directed by Jean Negulesco.

Grade: B- (** out of *****)

Produced by Samuel G. Engel, the script by Ivan Moffat and Dwight Taylor is very loosely upon  the novel by David Divine. It was set and partially shot on the Greek island of Hydra.

Made in Cinemascope with vivid colors, courtesy of the distinguished Cinematographer Milton R. Krasner, Boy on a Dolphin, the first Hollywood movie made in Greece, offered many visual pleasures, including a voyeuristic male gazing at the gorgeously looking Loren.

Loren plays Phaedra, a female sponge diver, essentially a role that served as an excuse to display her voluptuous body and sexy curves–in most scenes, she is clad in tight shorts and skirts and transparent shirts, most revealing when wet.

While combing the waters, Phaedra discovers the wreckage of a sunken ship with some fascinating artifacts, including a statue of a boy astride a dolphin. When Phaedra tells her boyfriend Rhif (Jorge Mistral) about the find, he is convinced that the statue is valuable, and he begins making plans to bring it to dry land for sale.

Boy on a Dolphin

Original lobby card

Looking for help, they approach Dr. James Calder (Alan Ladd), an American archeologist working on a project for aboy_on_a_dolphin_1_loren Greek museum. Calder seeks the statue even tough he can’t pay for it. He wants Phaedra and Rhif to donate it to his museum as a sampler of Greek statuary. Greedy, Rhif turns to Victor Parmalee (Clifton Webb), a wealthy American art collector intrigued by the statue and other valuables that might be in the ship.


Rhif and Victor make plans to salvage the ship’s contents and send them back to America, for which Rhif is promised a handsome fee. But Phaedra finds herself attracted to Calder, especially after Victor’s blunt offer to make her his mistress. A hot romance ensues, with the couple determined to rescue the ship’s valuables before Rhif and Parmalee can get them.

The love scenes between Sophia Loren and Alan Ladd presented problems for director Negulesco and his crew. The boy_on_a_dolphin_6_lorendisparity in heights between the 5 ft 9 in (1.75 m) Loren, and 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m) Ladd, created a complicated shoot. Some of their scenes together required him to stand on a box, while others forced a trench to be dug for Loren, when the pair was seen walking along the beach.



At that time, the film’s leading man, especially a movie star, always had to be taller than his love interest, a norm that prevailed for decades–before the public accepted such disparate couples as Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, or Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

The sultry theme song often attributed to Julie London (though she did record her own version accompanied only by a guitar) is actually sung by Mary Kay in the movie, and is performed over the stunning underwater title sequence:

There’s a tale that they tell of a dolphin

And a boy made of gold.

With the shells and the pearls in the deep,

He has lain many years fast asleep

What they tell of the boy on a dolphin,

Who can say if it’s true?

Should he rise from the depths of the ocean,

Any wish that you wish may come true.

You say “he’s only a statue, and what can a statue achieve?”

And yet, while I’m gazing at you,

My heart tells my head to believe.

If the boy whom the gods have enchanted

Should arise from the sea,

And the wish of my heart could be granted,

I would wish that you loved only me.

Sophia Loren sings “What is this thing they call love” by Tony Maroudas in a duet with a local performer (Tony himself) at an al fresco café.

The movie, benefiting from huge marketing campaign around Loren, was commercially successful.

Oscar Context:

Hugo Friedhofer’s score was nominated for the Best Music Oscar Award, but it did not win.


Alan Ladd as Dr. James Calder

Clifton Webb as Victor Parmalee

Sophia Loren as Phaedra

Alex Minotis as Milidias Nadapoulos

Jorge Mistral as Rhif

Laurence Naismith as Dr. Hawkins

Piero Giagnoni as Niko

Gertrude Flynn as Miss Dill


Directed by Jean Negulesco
Produced by Samuel G. Engel
Written by Ivan Moffat and Dwight Taylor, based on Boy on a Dolphin 1955 novel by David Divine
Music by Hugo Friedhofer
Cinematography Milton Krasner
Edited by William Mace
Distributed by 20th Century Fox

Release date: April 19, 1957

Running time: 111 minutes
Budget $2.8 million
Box office $3.3 million