Picture of Dorian Gray, The (1945): Albert Lewin’s Oscar-Winning Psychological Horror, Based on Oscar Wilde’s 1890 Novel

Albert Lewin directed The Picture of Dorian Gray, a subtle psychological drama, based on Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel of the same name.

The film stars George Sanders as Lord Henry Wotton and Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray.

Shot primarily in black-and-white, the film features four color inserts in three-strip Technicolor of Dorian’s portrait; the first two inserts picturing a youthful Dorian and the second two a degenerate one.

While posing for painting by his friend Basil Hallward, handsome young aristocrat Dorian Gray meets Hallward’s friend Lord Henry Wotton.

Wotton persuades Gray that the only worthwhile life is dedicated to pleasure, because “what the gods give they quickly take away.” Gray wishes his portrait could age, instead of him, and his wish in the presence of Egyptian cat statue with magical powers.

After callously breaking off his engagement to tavern singer Sibyl Vane, Gray finds the portrait has begun to change. He has the portrait locked away in his old schoolroom and disguises its location by firing servants who moved the painting.

Years later, Dorian is 40 but still looks 22. London society is awestruck at his unchanging appearance. The portrait has remained locked away, with Gray holding the only key.

Over the years, the portrait of the young, handsome, Dorian Gray has warped into a hideous, demon-like creature reflecting his sins. When Hallward sees his painting, Gray murders his friend and seals his body in the school room next to the portrait.

He then blackmails his friend Allen Campbell to dispose of Hallward’s body, and the distraught Campbell commits suicide.

Gray starts a romance with Hallward’s niece, Gladys. James Vane, Sibyl’s brother, follows Gray to his estate to achieve revenge for Sibyl’s death and is shot by accident during hunting party.

Gray despairs at his impact on others; he realizes he can spare Gladys from misfortune by leaving her. After sending Gladys a letter breaking their engagement, Gray confronts his portrait and sees a subtle improvement. He stabs the portrait in the heart, seeking to end the spell, but cries out as if he has also been stabbed.

His friends, realizing what has happened, burst into the schoolroom to discover Gray dead next to the portrait, his deformed body reflecting his sins. The portrait, by contrast, once more shows Dorian Gray as a young innocent man.

Changes to the original include the romance between Gladys and David and some censorship restrictions that kept Dorian’s unspeakable acts offscreen.

In the book, the picture alters in response to Dorian’s “good deed,” but the alteration is ugly, reflecting his cynicism and self-serving motivation. He stabs the painting to eliminate the evidence. In the film, he sees faint change in the painting as a sign of hope, yet stabs the painting as if he can undo his past. As he is transformed off-screen, he prays for forgiveness.

Two paintings of the character Dorian Gray were used in the film. The painting titled Picture of Dorian Gray used at the end was done on commission during the making of the film in 1943-1944 by Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, an American artist known as a painter of the macabre. Created specifically for use in the film, it is now part of the art collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Albright painted and altered the picture while the movie was made to represent the development of Dorian’s character.

The portrait of Dorian Gray was painted by Henrique Medina, and is titled Portrait of Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray. It was sold at an MGM auction in 1970. In 1997, it was then sold in a Butterfield and Butterfield Entertainment Memorabilia auction for $17,250, and in 2015 it was sold at Christie’s New York for $149,000 and is in a private collection.

The first piano piece played by Dorian to Sibyl is Frédéric Chopin’s “Prelude No 24 in D minor.” Played later in the Blue Gate Field house is Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”.

The film earned $1,399,000 in the U.S. and $1,576,000 elsewhere, resulting in a loss of $26,000.

Oscar Context

Oscar Nominations: 3

Best Supporting Actress: Angela Lansbury

Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White John Bonar, Cedric Gibbons, Hugh Hunt, Hans Peters and Edwin B. Willis

Best Cinematography, Black-and-White Harry Stradling

Oscar Awards: 1

Best Cinematography

Cast
George Sanders as Lord Henry Wotton
Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray
Donna Reed as Gladys Hallward
Angela Lansbury as Sibyl Vane
Peter Lawford as David Stone
Lowell Gilmore as Basil Hallward
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
Anita Sharp-Bolster as Lady Harborough
Billy Bevan as Malvolio Jones
Lilian Bond as Kate

Uncredited Cast

Cedric Hardwicke as Narrator
Mitchell Lewis as Waiter
Reginald Owen as Lord George Farmour

Credits:

Directed by Albert Lewin
Screenplay by Albert Lewin, based on The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891 novel by Oscar Wilde
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Cinematography Harry Stradling
Edited by Ferris Webster
Music by Herbert Stothart
Color process Technicolor
Production company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Distributed by Loew’s Inc.
Release date: March 3, 1945
Running time 110 minutes
Budget $1,918,000
Box office $2,975,000