This update of Oscar Wilde's often-filmed fin de siecle classic The Picture of Dorian Gray isn't all that bad, though it pales alongside the 1945 version. Pact with the Devil a B-pic but the performances are adequate & the script attempts to honor the source material.
A beautiful young man (Ethan Erickson) is tempted by a modeling agent (Malcolmn McDowell) who is obviously the devil into pursuing vanity instead of his own desire to be an art photographer. In exchange for immortal youth & success as a male supermodel, he gets to watch himself rot away in a photograph the devil took of him.
Immortality in this case lasts twenty years which is long enough for a soulless beauty to age his portrait by about a century, his wastrel lifestyle taking its toll though the Pact keeps it from showing on his body. As he works his way through numerous sins, starting with betrayal & concluding in murder, Dorian becomes increasingly paranoid watching his portrait turn into a monster, until finally with the devil's help he kills himself.
McDowell is a poor man's Michael Caine doing for B-films what Caine does for A-films, which is to say, he plays the only character he ever plays, with a nice accent. Erickson pursues his downward course without wavering. While by no measure a significant film, Pact with the Devil fills an idle hour & a half very nicely.
A made-for-TV version adhered a little more closely to the original story, though even so did it very badly. It seems in fact to be a remake of the 1945 MGM version borrowing the added the character of the artist's niece (Kim Richards when a child, Fionnula Flanagan twenty years later).
Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray is the title that appears on the screen, though distributed on video just as The Picture of Dorian Gray (1973). It hugely suffers from the television standard of production, looking & sounding like a 1960s soap opera video taped on an echoey sound stage. And no wonder, since producer Dan Curtis is best known for the gothic soap Dark Shadows (1966) & forever after mainly specialized in producing ultra-cheapo television gothics
Shane Briant plays Dorian as rather smug & creepy & stuck up looking even before the portrait changes his nature. Nigel Davenport as the philosophic tempter Lord Harry Wotton & Charles Aidman as the artist Basil Hallward are better actors than Briant, but they both seem to be doing impersonations of an elderly Bette Davis. With such performances, a great story comes off as cheap melodramatics, turning an Aesthete nightmare into an object of kitsch.
Vanessa Howard plays the ruined innocent Sybil Vane (very inferior to Angela Lansbury in the 1945 version). She has a harsh look that is not rendered sympathetic by whining. Essentially, none of the cast quite works in these roles. Davenport comes closest, but they're all either miscast or not trying very hard.
The idealized portrait of Dorian is a cruddy painting to start off, & looks increasingly like a comic book illustration as it deteriorates. The artist was John Solie, a well enough known portrait artist, but not a good one; he usually did artlessly commercialized caricatures for TV Guide or drecky illustrations for the covers of forgettable romance paperbacks. Which alas is no more than this Curtis production deserved.
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