The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Genre: Drama and Horror Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Release Date: March 3rd, 1945 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Albert Lewin Actors: George Sanders, Hurd Hatfield, Donna Reed, Angela Lansbury, Peter Lawford, Lowell Gilmore, Miles Mander

 


 

B

ased on the Oscar Wilde novel (adapted by Albert Lewin, who also directs), “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is an absolutely brilliant, thought-provoking horror fantasy, full of stunning originality and visual inspiration. With haunting piano works, chilling moral corruption, supernatural intervention, and wickedly acute dialogue, it’s a cinematic classic with unending relevancy and solid entertainment value. Faustian nods, alarming effects, and Gothic thrills result in a frightener that deserves to be ranked alongside Universal Studios’ “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” and “The Wolf Man” entities in sheer power and timelessness.

In 1886 London, Basil Hallward (Lowell Gilmore) is hard at work painting a portrait of handsome young Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield), while cynical Lord Henry Wotton (George Sanders) begins filling Gray’s head with ideas of everlasting youth and immortality (“time is jealous of you Mr. Gray”). The Lord speaks frankly about pleasure and happiness, perfects the art of doing nothing, and likes to influence the feelings of others while expressing none of his own. In the presence of a statue inhabited by an ancient god, Dorian wishes that the new painting could bear the burdens of his sins and age so that he may preserve his youth indefinitely. His request is mysteriously granted, but it soon proves to be a curse. He falls in love with the beautiful singer Sibyl Vane (Angela Lansbury) but is coerced by the poisonous words of Lord Henry; she abandons her innocence (which Gray so admired) in a callous test, causing Dorian to dash aside her love. When she commits suicide, his guilt and pride force him to assume an air of indifference – the first of many cruelties, venalities, and eventually murders, each of which mars his portrait, now hidden away and growing increasingly hideous in a locked room (the only item eventually shown in Technicolor).

As others age around him, Dorian remains amazingly vernal. He continues to sin and hurt, but the stresses on his humanity warp only the unseen painting, leaving his majestically chiseled face untouched. Sibyl blindly believed Dorian to be her “Sir Tristan,” a heroic knight and a moniker that her overprotective brother Jim (Richard Fraser) seeks out for revenge. Dorian’s new fancy, Gladys (Donna Reed), a young girl whom he casually promised to wait for despite a remarkable difference in age, is now grown up and still in love with him. But his secretiveness and the sour rumors that follow him give rise for suspicion amongst Gladys’ loved ones, who are determined to unveil the evil that Dorian conceals.

The dialogue is immediately impressive, filled with metaphors, keen eloquence, and poetic resonance. Lord Henry is responsible for the majority of the electrifying sophistication and verbal balladry, though the later focus on moral decay and the idea that the soul is not a fallacy gives importance even to the omniscient narrator that was initially unnecessary. Through actions and demeanor, Dorian is more frightening than many classic movie monsters, chiefly due to his humanness (and his increasing unscrupulousness), which is examined in the form of skewed identity, illusion/disillusion, decadence, and rifts in social classes, not unlike the alter ego clash in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” In the end, there’s also a macabre, moving notion of futility in redemption even with ultimate sacrifice, which gives the finale a jolt of striking satisfaction amid the inherent grimness.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10