Beautifully chilling – “The Picture of Dorian Gray” – Warner Archive Collection
Updated: Feb 26, 2021
UPDATED BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Dorian Gray, played by Hurd Hatfield, gazes at his portrait: "If only it was the picture who was to grow old, and I remain young. There's nothing in the world I wouldn't give for that. Yes, I would give even my soul for it."
(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)
“THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY: WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION”
Blu-ray; 1945; not rated
Best extra: Commentary with Angela Lansbury and writer/historian Steve Haberman
CLASSIC FILMS from the Warner Archive Collection have been rolling out for years. Their restorations look and sound great, a wonderful way to keep these beauties on hand to enjoy again and again, and to share with newcomers.
“Gaslight” (1944), directed by George Cukor and starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer and Joseph Cotton, is a new arrival. The thriller, which added a new word to the international dictionary, i.e. to “gaslight” someone, introduced stage actress Angela Lansbury to the big screen. She received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Role, then followed up in “The Picture of Dorian Gray” from the novelette by Oscar Wilde. Guess what? She achieved another Best Supporting Role nomination as the vulnerable Sibyl Vane, the pub singer who catches Gray’s eye.
Premiering in 1945, “Dorian Gray” was adapted and directed by Albert Lewin, who considered it his masterwork – and took every pain to make it so according to Lansbury in the disc’s terrific commentary. Lewin was a grueling taskmaster, who demanded perfection right down to the slightest curl of his actor’s lip.
(1) The Warner Archive restoration delivers crisp detail and brilliant contrast in its fine restoration. (2) George Sanders as Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian's flagrantly degenerate mentor. (3) Artist, friend and victim Basil Hallward, played by Lowell Gilmore. (4) Actor Hurd Hatfield delivered such a remarkable performance, he was forever associated with the part during his career and personal life.
Dorian Gray's portrait is the only item that appears in color during the film. The Egyptian cat goddess Bast, seen in the painting and in Dorian's home, is the creature that grants him his wish to look forever young.
(1) Angela Lansbury made her screen debut as the tragic Sibyl Vane, Dorian's first victim. She was nominated for an Academy Award. (2) A young Donna Reed plays Hallward's niece, Gladys, who has had a crush on Dorian since she was a child. (3 & 4) Dorian's appearance remains young and attractive even as he ages and evil becomes a way of life.
That would be Hurd Hatfield, the talented man who played Dorian Gray. Lewin was determined his handsome face remain a perfect portrait, a mask. It was only his second film role, but Hatfield pulls it off beautifully. So well, in fact, that he was forever associated with the role. He’s the forerunner of Tony Perkins, who would always be Norman Bates after Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” and whose career was all but stifled by that fame.
For those who know the Dorian Gray story, there’s an amazing similarity to the Bates/Gray roles. Both are suspense horror films whose dynamic takes root in the mind. At any rate, despite a lengthy career on stage and in film, Hatfield never got another role in which he could shine.
Be sure to catch him here. There have been many remakes, and Dorian Gray’s character has shown up in other films and series, such as “Penny Dreadful” and “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” Warner’s restoration is premier perfect – a gorgeous 1080p black-and-white with deep blacks, sharp whites and assertive gray tones. Contrast and detail are razor sharp, a tribute to Harry Stradling Sr. who won an Oscar for best cinematography.
The Victorian décor is important; a statue of Bast plays a key role and is present in Dorian’s portrait and in several scenes. It also became one of Lewin’s souvenirs, while Hatfield was eventually presented with his “handsome Dorian” portrait by a friend. Ivan Le Lorraine Albright’s evil portrait is owned and on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. Historian Steve Haberman points out various objects during the commentary, especially the jumble of deserted toys representing Dorian’s downfall in the deserted playroom where he hides his portrait. Children’s blocks seen under an old desk have the initials of Dorian’s victims, including “AL” for Albert Lewin.
The portrait reveals Dorian Gray's monstrous deeds in true "Tales of the Crypt" fashion. Despite the cartoonish painting, there's never been a re-adaptation of Oscar Wilde's story as good as the 1945 film, although it's fun to see Dorian Gray turn up as a character in other films and series.
(1) Gladys becomes Dorian's fiancée. (2) Sybil's brother, sailor James Vane (Richard Fraser) hunts for the man responsible for her death. (3) Dorian may appear to sleep peacefully, but dreams reflect his inner-demons.
Dorian and London citizens confront his past misdeeds - to no avail.
Color is used for effect and looks good, although not as spectacular as the black and while. Dorian’s portrait – which ages as he stays young, reflecting the effects of his evil – is in color. It appears on-screen in extreme close-up, partly for shock value, partly because they did not have the ability to easily keep the background in black-and-white. (The production went way over budget.) When we see the final results, the painting is a horror out of the old Tales from the Crypt comic. Meant as a big shock, the restoration shows it in all its gory glory.
Along with Lansbury, the cast is a Who’s Who of film greats including George Sanders as Dorian’s mentor in vice, a young Donna Reed, who Dorian believes could be his salvation, and Peter Lawford as the beaux who would rescue Reed’s character by discovering Dorian’s secret. (Basil Rathbone lobbied hard for the Sanders’ role, but MGM wouldn’t release him from the Sherlock Holmes franchise.) “Dorian Gray” also earned Oscar nominations for best art direction-interior decoration, black-and-white.
None of the extras are new, but are fun to watch and terrific to have ported over to the restoration. Two Oscar-winning shorts straight out of the Warner vault provide an old fashioned night at the movies. “Stairway to Light” tells the story of a doctor who brings more humane treatment to those imprisoned for mental illness; “Quiet Please!” is a Tom & Jerry cartoon. Still, the gem is that great commentary.
Warner’s “Picture of Dorian Gray” continues to chill and entertain and, in this perfect restoration, makes an excellent gift for any movie fan.
— Kay Reynolds
(1) Dorian continues to appear as if he's in his 20s. (2 & 3) while Wotton ages and Gladys grows up. (4) David Stone, played by a young Peter Lawford (member of the Sinatra's Rat Pack and brother-in-law of President John F. Kennedy) is in love with Gladys. Dorian believes she may provide his redemption.
Dorian confronts his portrait and his life ... which transforms again after his death.
Dorian prays for forgiveness and salvation as he dies. Viewers may wonder if he succeeds ... or remains damned.