The 1945 version of The Picture of Dorian Gray is a magical evocation of London in the 1880s through "the yellow decade" of the 1890s. The acts glimpsed at a low-life vaudeville tavern called The Two Turtles is particularly fun, with its dancing xylophone-playing puppets & Angela Lansbury as Sibyl Vane performing her song "Good-bye Little Yellow Bird."
Lansbury is so the epitome of sweetness & innocence that it's hard to realize that after The Manchurian Candidate (1962) she was regarded as the epitome of evil motherhood, an image not expunged until she was old & starring in Murder, She Wrote.
Lowell Gilmore as London artist Basil Hallward has completed a portrait which he regards as his best work, but feels there is something so disturbing & mystical about the work it should be given a public exhibition.
Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray begins innocently enough as a good, naive chap famed for his youthful beauty. The cynical philosophy of Lord Henry seeps into his mind so that he becomes willing to give up his soul in exchange for immortal youth, & before a statue of the cat-goddess Bast asks that his portrait age rather than himself.
George Sanders as Lord Henry Wotton (named for a pagan god) serves as all-knowing narrator of the tale. He has a devil's goatee with good symbolic reason. He speaks in savage aphorisms which his friends regard "demoralizing & delightful, not to be taken seriously." But Dorian does take him all too seriously.
The gorgeous black & white cinematography is interupted only by close-ups of the titular picture of Dorian Gray, which is in full color, an affectation also of Portrait of Jenny (1948). But unlike the workmanlike portrait in Jenny, the horrific Dorian painting is the brilliant work of Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, who took a year painting it.
Darkly humorous but never a comedy, Dorian is the most beautiful monster of all monster cinema. Dorian lives in terror of someone finding the hidden portrait & seeing that his visage has become "sodden & unclean" while Dorian perpetually looks to be about twenty-two.
Peter Lawford is David, the third corner of a love-triangle since he loves Gladys (Donna Reed), Gladys loves Dorian, & Dorian loves himself. David perceives some evil in Dorian despite his angelic countenance, & snopping about, discovers the painting, though not understanding its full significance. By that time the subject of the picture scarcely looks human & the creature's hands drip with blood.
His cruelty led sweet Sibyl to ruin & suicide; his sins & crimes are numerous. And if he continues to pursue the adoring Gladys, it is inevitable that she too shall be destroyed. Now & then his humanity strives to resurface, & when he suddenly ceases to court Gladys, he perceives in the portrait a slight improvement of appearance for the one good thing he has done. But it's rather late for Dorian, who will not escape the truly horrific climax.
This visually beautiful horror film qualifies as high art & Decadence as the subject required, with some startling film noir lighting & shadow effects. Director Albert Lewis's script, as well as the set design, is rich in allusions to the book's author, Oscar Wilde, in cited poems, Aubrey Beardsley's art, books, knickknackery, veiled allusions to homosexuality, & of course the cruelly witty aphorisms spewed variously from the lips of Lord Henry or his student Dorian.
At the center of the film is that performance by Hurd Hatfield. That he does somewhat resemble Wilde's sweety Lord Alfred Douglas is no accident of casting. Although he had a long & successful career in films, the stage, & on television, it is for his early role as Dorian Gray that he was to remain best known.
He plays Dorian with only one facial expression -- the one from before the potrait showed decay. As calamity accumulates around him & he continues to gaze at the world from behind an inscrutibly angelic mask, he turns beauty into something truly chilling.
As an idle point of trivia, Hurd remained a lifelong friend of Angela Landsbury from the cast, & he made multiple appearances in her television series Murder, She Wrote.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl