Picture of Dorian Gray, The (1945)

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), directed by Albert Lewin.

A rich interpretation of Oscar Wilde's tale of a dissolute man whose hidden portrait ages and shows his corruption as he remains ever young and beautiful.

It approaches horror film territory without crossing over. What Gray is up to in his diseased debaucheries is never spelled out. He is clearly applying sexual blackmail to a man who is one of his victims.

There is much to admire in the production. I think it goes on longer than necessary and the biggest problem is Hurd Hatfield as the title character. It is not his fault: the director had an idea that since the portrait was changing then Dorian could not change at all. He required a mask-like immobile face and wooden performance. It is wearying after a while and prevents the story from developing properly.

The other characters fare better:

The deep-focus photography by Harry Stradling exploits the ornate decor of the rooms: we get foreground and background in the same focus.

It is easy to see Oscar Wilde putting himself into his only novel. In fact he said:


Basil Hallward [the painter] is what I think I am: Lord Henry [George Sanders] is what the world thinks of me: Dorian is what I would like to be -- in other ages, perhaps.

The story contains much self-criticism. Where does aestheticism as a way of life lead?

Available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive. The commentary track is a lively conversation with Angela Lansbury, sharp as a tack and with a good memory for details.

She was friends with Hatfield and he thought it absurd that he could be "the handsomest man who ever lived". That and the required stone-faced performance sabotaged his career.