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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
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The Picture of Dorian Gray is a 1945 film 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, Angela Lansbury as Sybil Vane, and Sir Cedric Hardwick as the uncredited narrator. Notable for its deep-focus cinematography and for the Technicolor inserts of the infamous portrait.

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.

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


Tropes:

  • 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:
    • 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.
    • 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 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:
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    • 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 crueler. There's also him romancing Gladys... after he murdered her uncle.
  • Age Lift: Inverted. In the book Dorian is described as "boy" not yet of age. Here he's an adult.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Composite Character: Adrian Singleton is given the role of the hag who reveals Dorian's secret to James Vane.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Lord Henry, notch 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.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • The book Lord Henry is reading at the beginning is Les Fleurs du Mal, a volume that would make the Hays Code cringe.
    • Lord Henry's suggestion that Dorian should test Sybil's virtue by wanting to spend the night with her is done by saying "he doesn't want her to go home" — that's what the Hays Code would allow in those days.
    • In the drug den, James Vane meets a foreign woman who remarks "What is English? There are men and there are women." It's not hard to guess her profession; hint it's oldest one.
    • Adrian keeps calling Dorian "Sir Tristan", the nickname that Sybil Vane gave him, implying their friendship was something more. Also Adrian mention he got it from Lord Henry, who spends a lot of time with Dorian.
    • Averted with Adrian who admits to doing drugs.
  • 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!"
  • 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 Campell to suicide? We don't know mainly because the Hays Code forade any such behavior from being shown on screen in contrast to more modern adaptation. This makes in line with the novel, where we never see Dorian's evil deeds, merely whispers and rumors. This makes it more effective since the viewers' own imagination fills in the gap.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Showing 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 erotism; 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.
  • Toxic Friend Influence: Lordy Henry is even worse here then in the book.

Alternative Title(s): The Picture Of Dorian Gray

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