In the 1890s, Dorian Gray, a handsome youth, wishes his just-painted portrait would age in place of him. Mysteriously, his wish is granted and he remains young, even as he becomes a dissolute libertine.
‘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.’ Oscar Wilde’s classic novel has been filmed over and over since the silent days, often for television or in straight and gay porno movies – but this 1945 Hollywood movie is still the only big-budget mainstream adaptation.
Albert Lewin, a specialist in the tasteful but weird (Pandora and the Flying Dutchman), wrote and directed this classy production for Paramount, perhaps reining himself in a little too much in drawing a veil over what exactly Dorian does that’s so evil (and unhealthy). It’s a wonderfully-cast picture, with Hurd Hatfield smoothly credible as both the lovely youth and the frozen villain, George Sanders (as Dorian’s mentor Sir Henry) tossing off Wilde’s lines (‘forgive me for the intelligence of my argument -- I'd forgotten that you were a Member of Parliament’) as if they were written for him, and plump young Angela Lansbury heartbreaking as the music hall singer (‘Goodbye Little Yellow Bird’) who Dorian drives to suicide at the beginning of his long slide to depravity.
Lewin tidies up Wilde’s plot a little, sometimes even improving on the book (the business with the girl makes much more sense here), but also bows occasionally to Hollywood convention, having even the cynical Sir Henry coming over religious at the climax. An arty touch is that the film is in luminous black and white, except for the picture – which is in glorious colour.
Manages to strike a mostly successful balance between improving upon Wilde's, sometimes muddled, plotlines and pandering to Hollywood tastes.