The eighth screen adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s famous book The Picture of Dorian Gray was the first sound version, and the first time it had been adapted since 1918. It was released 1 June 1945 and earned $1,399,000 in North America ($20,229,540 today) and $1,576,000 in the rest of the world ($22,788,960 today). MGM took a fairly small loss of $26,000 ($375,960 today).
Dorian Gray was nominated for three Academies in 1946, one of which it won (Harry Stradling for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White). This was a rare win for a horror film, a genre which isn’t very respected at the Academies.
Angela Lansbury won a 1946 Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.
In 1996, the film won a Retro-Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, and in 2009, it was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best DVD Classic Film Release.
Artist Henrique Medina painted the picture of Dorian seen at the start of the film, Portrait of Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray. It sold at auctions in 1970, 1997, and 2015. Today, it’s believed to belong to a private collector.
The grotesquely transformed later portrait, which becomes more and more monstrous as Dorian grows in his evil, was painted by Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, known as “The Master of the Macabre.” The Art Institute of Chicago currently owns it.
Both paintings appear in Technicolor the first time they’re shown.
In 1886 London, young Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield) lives in the lap of luxury but doesn’t quite have his head screwed on straight. Like all youth, he thinks he knows so much more than he really does, and overestimates his own maturity.
Lord Henry Wotton (George Sanders) pays a visit while he’s sitting for a painting by Basil Hallward (Lowell Gilmore), and convinces Dorian of the superiority of youth and hedonism. Youth only comes this way once, and then never again, so why not milk it for all it’s worth while it’s with us?
Towards this end, Dorian wishes he could stay frozen in time while only his painting ages. This wish is uttered in the presence of an Ancient Egyptian cat goddess statue who’s also in the painting.
Dorian soon visits a tavern, where he falls in instalove with pretty young singer Sibyl Vane (Angela Lansbury, who just turned 95). Though Sibyl never gets friendly with any of her fans, she’s so taken with Dorian she makes an exception.
They’re soon courting, despite the disapproval of Sibyl’s brother James. Sibyl’s mother meanwhile is thrilled at such a rich suitor.
Henry once again plays the busybody and convinces Dorian to test Sibyl’s worth by asking her to spend the night at his home. Sibyl is initially scandalized by the request and leaves, but quickly returns because she loves Dorian so.
Dorian writes her a cruel letter soon afterwards, claiming she killed his love and that she can never see him again. Sibyl is heartbroken to receive this letter. Insult is added to injury when a compensation check is enclosed.
Dorian notices new, cruel lines in his face in the painting, and is overcome with shame and regret. He immediately sets to work writing a most profuse apology and reconciliation letter.
Soon after Dorian seals and addresses the envelope, Henry visits again with very bad news making the resumption of that relationship impossible. This is all the catalyst Dorian needs to fall deeper and deeper into a cruel, hedonistic lifestyle encouraged by Henry.
Though Dorian is now firmly committed to a selfish, hedonistic lifestyle, he’s so disturbed by the changes in his portrait, he hides it in his old schoolroom on the top floor of his house and covers it with a cloth. Prior, he kept it covered by screens, and refused to let Basil display it with other artwork.
The schoolroom is locked, and only Dorian has a key. No one has a reason to go up there, and he regularly fires and replaces his servants, so he believes his secret is safe.
Every time Dorian steals a look at the hidden painting, he’s more and more horrified. He barely recognizes himself anymore, so monstrous has he become. His hands are also stained with blood.
Then Basil drops by shortly before he’s due to leave on a trip to Paris, and Dorian’s life of evil deeds becomes even more out of control.
As is so often the case, the taste of sin is so sweet in the beginning, but eventually becomes very bitter. One who’s so used to sinning has an uphill battle to defeat that evil inclination.
And to make matters even more complicated, Dorian’s misdeeds start catching up with him in the form of several people seeking revenge.