Oscar Wilde’s novel has been adapted to the screen more than twenty times, but the most famous is the 1945 version, which received two Oscar nominations and one win (Best Cinematography), a Golden Globe (Best Actress) and a Hugo (Best Dramatic Presentation).
It tells the tale of man whose wish, mystically granted, goes disturbingly awry.
Title: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Directed by Albert Lewin
Written by Albert Lewin from the novel by Oscar Wilde
Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray
George Sanders as Lord Henry Wotton
Donna Reed as Gladys Hallward
Angela Lansbury as Sibyl Vane
Lowell Gilmore as Basil Hallward
Peter Lawford as David Stone
Richard Fraser as James Vane
Douglas Walton as Allen Campbell
Morton Lowry as Adrian Singleton
Miles Mander as Sir Robert Bentley
Lydia Bilbrook as Mrs. Vane
Mary Forbes as Lady Agatha
Robert Greig as Sir Thomas
Moyna MacGill as Duchess
Lilian Bond as Kate
Reginald Owen as Lord George Farmour
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Affluent, naïve Dorian Gray begins following the amoral, hedonistic Lord Henry Wotton, especially after he courts and then spurns a music-hall singer, with disastrous results. While Gray’s moral life degenerates, his physical self remains unchanged. He appears perpetually twenty-two years old.
A painting, locked away in his house, reveals his dark secret.
Lewin’s direction and shot composition is extraordinary, and one of the reasons many people consider his the definitive adaptation. It is not a horror movie in the contemporary sense, but its disturbing elements linger. Alas, the overall effect requires that the audience pay close attention. Some contemporary audiences appear to have trouble with this notion.
Wilde’s deliberate choice to leave us speculating over Dorian’s worst offenses serves a useful purpose, but creates a curious distance in this film. A more over-the-top Dorian Gray might not work, but this version does feel a little cold and detached in places.
Originality: 2/6 Overall, we have a fairly straightforward adaptation of the core source material. The film makes some additions and changes that work very well.
Effects: 5/6 “Effects” can be difficult to define. The score would be moderate if one considers only conventional effects. However, this film features a stunning Ivan Le Lorraine Albright painting, which the painter altered over the course of filming. It now hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago, and is worth seeing, if you’re ever there.
The movie also received accolades for a queer blend of deep-focus black and white and 3-strip Technicolor film.
Acting: 6/6 The acting, like Wilde’s dialogue, is somewhat stylized, but excellent overall.
Story: 6/6 The core of Wilde’s classic story remain unchanged. The changes to Sybil and Gladys work well (in some respects, the changes to Sybil’s background make more sense, at least to a post-Victorian audience). The addition of the mystic cat sculpture as the source of the wish may be a bit cheesy, but it fits the contemporaneous audience’s expectations for a horror/fantasy. The original novel never explains why Gray’s wish is granted.
Emotional Response: 5/6
In total, The Picture of Dorian Gray receives 34/42