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Film / The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

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"I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
And by and by my Soul returned to me,
And answered, "I Myself am Heaven and Hell."
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a 1945 film adaptation of Oscar Wilde's only novel, adapted and directed by Albert Lewin and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It stars George Sanders as Lord Henry, Hurd Hattfield as Dorian, Donna Reed as Gladys Hallward, Angela Lansbury as Sybil Vane, Peter Lawford as David Stone, Lowell Gilmore as Basil Hallward, and Sir Cedric Hardwicke as the uncredited narrator. The film is notable for its deep-focus cinematography and for the Technicolor inserts of the infamous portrait.

London, 1886. Lord Henry Wotton, an unrepentant hedonist, is introduced to an extraordinarily beautiful young man named Dorian Gray by his society artist friend Basil Hallward, who has painted a marvelous portrait of Dorian. Due to Lord Henry's influence, Dorian begins to wish the picture would grow old and he would stay young. It's just a harmless wish, what could happen? Lord Henry warns Dorian to be careful, for in Basil's studio there's a statue of an Egyptian cat god perfectly capable of granting such a wish.

Lord Henry's words prove to have a toxic effect on Dorian. Intrigued by Lord Henry's philosophy of hedonism, Dorian begins a life-style of bold experimentation, satisfying his unquenchable lust for all forms of pleasure, which ultimately leads to unpleasant consequences.


  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Basil Hallward is described as unattractive in the novel; here he is portrayed by good-looking Lowell Gilmore.
  • Adaptational Dye-Job: In the book Dorian is blond, here he's brunette.
  • Adaptation Expansion: There's a major subplot about Dorian's romance with Basil's niece Gladys and her other suitor David, who is determined she should not marry Dorian.
  • Adaptational Explanation: In the book, there's no explanation for how Dorian's mad wish is granted. Here it's the work of a statue of an Egyptian cat god.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Dorian, in a very minor way. In the book he never loved Sybil, he loved her art. Here he actually does love her... until she fails Lord Henry's sick test of virtue. Also his "one good deed" is completely different than in the book; there his idea of not seducing a farm girl is but a whim, here he breaks off his engagement with Gladys because he truly loves and knows how terrible they would be together.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • In the book Lord Henry is all talk, waxing and waning on hedonism. Here he proposes Dorian do a cruel experiment to test Sybil's purity, Dorian should suggest she should "spend the night" with him. If she refuses, she's worthy of his love. If not, well ...
    • Dorian does go through with Henry's suggestion, which makes his rejection of Sybil much more cruel. There's also him romancing Gladys... after he murdered her uncle.
  • Age Lift: In the book Dorian is described as a "boy" not yet of age. Here he's an adult.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: In the novel, Dorian stabs the painting for entirely selfish reasons- he hates looking at it, and its continued existence represents the last dregs of a conscience he wishes to be entirely rid of (and there is a chance it could link him to the murder of Basil Hallward). In the movie, his reasons are exactly the opposite- he considers it responsible for leading his life astray, and sees its destruction as a necessary step toward reforming himself into a better man. invoked
  • Anachronism Stew: Adrian recites lines from Wilde's "The Ballad of Reading Gaol", which he wrote after "The Picture of Dorian Gray".
  • Book Ends: The film ends and begins with the same verse from "The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám".
  • Broken Bird: Sybil—she even sings a song about it, "Goodbye Little Yellow Bird".
  • Celebrity Paradox: At one point Dorian recites excerpts from a poem called The Sphinx. When Sybil asks who wrote it, he replies a "brilliant Irishman out of Oxford, his name is Oscar Wilde".
    • Later Adrian recites verses from "The Ballad of Reading Gaol", a poem written by you guessed it Wilde.
  • The Chanteuse: Sibyl is a music-hall singer rather than a stage actress. Angela Lansbury's performance of "Goodbye Little Yellow Bird" is a highlight of the film.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The film makes a point of showing a knife, stuck in the old school desk in the room where Dorian keeps the portrait. This is the knife he kills Basil with.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: When confronting Dorian about the list of ruined people, Adrian Singleton comes up. He later shows up 3/4 of the film and tells James Vane Dorian's true identity, which is what begins Dorian's downfall.
  • Chiaroscuro: The film has a very artfully lit scene when Dorian murders Basil, complete with a lamp that is knocked when Dorian swings the knife, and then sways back and forth.
  • Composite Character: Adrian Singleton is given the role of the hag who reveals Dorian's secret to James Vane.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Lord Henry, fitting a character whom Wilde identified as the character the world saw him as.
    • Adrian Singleton gets a very good dig when James Vane passes up his chance to kill Dorian.
      "Why didn't you murder him? They could only have hanged you for it."
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: It is set in Victorian London. Despite Basil being a virtuous man, he sees nothing wrong with Gladys pursing Dorian, a man whom she has known a child when she becomes an adult, nor Dorian returning those feelings.

  • Little Miss Snarker: Gladys as a child, who actually manages to out-wit Lord Henry, much to his chagrin:
    "When this is known I shall be torn to shreds in every drawing room in London!"
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Played with, as Gladys, a child at the film's beginning, is a young woman still in love with Dorian by the end while he is comparatively static.
  • Morality Pet: Gladys to Dorian, which is actually subverted because all though he loves her, he doesn't actually change his evil ways.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Hurd Hatfield used his own natural American accent when playing Dorian.
  • Off Screen Villainy: What does Dorian do that make his picture so corrupt apart from murdering Basil and driving Sybil and later Alan Campbell to suicide? We don't know, mainly because the Hays Code forbade any such behavior from being shown on screen in contrast to more modern adaptations.
  • Pretty in Mink: Sibyl wears a fur muff and fur trimmed hat, and Gladys wears a fur-trimmed coat and ermine wrap.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Lord Henry's corruption of Dorian in Basil's studio is juxtaposed with Lord Henry trapping and pinning a butterfly on a card.
  • Scare Chord: The portrait reveal.
  • Shadow Discretion Shot: During Dorian's murder of Basil Hallward.
  • She's All Grown Up: As a child, Gladys makes Dorian promise that he won't change until she's grown up, Dorian says of course he won't but he's merely humoring her. But when she grows into a young woman, Dorian is suddenly interested.
  • Shown Their Work: What's that book Lord Henry is reading in the hansom cab at the beginning? Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire, a tome infamous in its day for its themes of decadence and eroticism; in the novel it's "the yellow book" that Dorian tries to blame for his corruption. Basil detests it, and prefers ''The Wisdom of Buddha" instead.
  • Splash of Color: The portrait, and only the portrait. Specifically, it is shown in Technicolor four times—twice when it shows Dorian as young and beautiful, and twice when it shows Dorian as a horrible monster.
  • Take Our Word for It: Due to The Hays Code, Dorian's Offstage Villainy couldn't even be named, let alone shown or described. It therefore must suffice for the narrator to simply tell the viewer that he has committed such debauchery that his name is now mud in most decent circles.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Lordy, Henry is even worse here then in the book.