The Picture of Dorian Gray – Film Essay
The MGM film “The Picture of Dorian Gray” was directed by Albert E. Lewis, in i945.This film was based upon Oscar Wilde´ s unique novel which has the same name. Lewis was an American filmmaker, producer and
screenwriter born in 1894 who first worked as an English instructor and after several and diverse labor activities, he entered to the cinema world as a drama and film critic before working at the MGM in 1924 where he developed his main career.
The movie, which is classified as a horror film, tells the story of Dorian Gray, an aristocrat from London who sells his soul to remain young and handsome after meeting Lord Henry Wotton whose influence over Dorian lead the latter to a sordid way of empty pleasure, luxury and sin where morality was a ridiculous word. Albert Lewin personally selected Hurd Hatfield to play the role of Dorian Gray in the 1945 movie version. It was an “astonishing performance, one that proved virtually unstoppable for Hatfield”; according to The New York Times All Media Movie Page. Hatfield was born in New York, in 1918.
George Sanders portrayed Lord Henry Wooton. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, 1906; he “ was the personification of cynicism, an elegantly dissolute figure whose distinct brand of anomie distinguished dozens of films during a career spanning nearly four decades.” Lowell Gilmore performed Basil Hallward. Gilmore was born in New York, 1906. According to comments taken from All Movie Guide, he was a suave-looking, wavy-haired supporting actor who always seemed more British than American, despite his Midwest origins
Angela Lansbury, who performed the famous Jessica Fletcher between 1984 and 1996 on the television series Murder, She Wrote, played the role of Sybil Vane. She won the Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe Award in 1945 for her role in the film.
The plot is as follows: Basil Hallward, an artist, painted a young handsome man named Dorian Gray. During the last section of the painting, Dorian met Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil. Lord Henry made Dorian realize of the great but ephemeral beauty he, Dorian had and advised him to enjoy life to the fullest without taking care of any moral principle. Then, looking at the portrait, he wishes out that the painting would get old, but not he. Dorian Gray fell under the influence of Lord Henry, due to the clever way he had to convince him and his good manners. Years went by, and Dorian found certain joy in committing sinful. Each time he did a bad action, the painting became older and uglier while he did not lose his beauty or youth. He was able to destroy lives and also killed Basil, the painter. At the end of the story, he decided to be a good person again and destroyed the picture with the same knife he used to kill Mr. Hallward. When he did it, Dorian Gray was found dead on the floor and the portrait new and beautiful as when it was painted.
This film is essentially a black and white one that bursts into Technicolor whenever the picture is shown in close-up. The impact is great each time the picture is seen in color, but in my opinion, the black and white atmosphere made the movie convincing about the theme, definitively. The cinematographer Harry Stradling won as the Best Black and White Cinematography Academy Award in 1945.
The sound designer was Douglas Shearer and the music composer was Herbert Stothart. They both were responsible of the music when the picture is finally revealed in all its decay and horror.
According to Judith Mayne in her essay Cinema and Spectatorship (1993), the film is about portraiture, and therefore shows an obvious connection to spectatorship. Mayne notes that she is also interested in the gay persona of the author Oscar Wilde and the homosexual implications of the novella on which the film is predicated. Despite some commonalities with classical Hollywood cinema, the film focuses primarily on the looking relations between the male characters in the film and, Mayne suggests, an implicit homosexuality and I agree with her.
In conclusion, I can say that the film represents the novel very well. This version evokes the Victorian age perfectly. While Dorian was full of beauty of his eternal youth, his picture not only got older and older, but also assumes a repulsive ugliness that materializes his terrible sins. The room in which the portrait is held is perceived as a forbidden zone set apart from reality, but the only place where he could see himself without any mask. The death of Dorian is a representation of the death of immorality which is, somehow, a symbol of Wilde´ s conflict because of his own homosexuality, very difficult to face and accept in such an oppressive society.
The film begins and ends with the following verses taken from the Roubaiya of Omar Khayyam:
“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 I answered :”I myself am Heaven and Hell”
These verses express conflict, opposition of ideas about the good and the bad. The meaning of them can be interpreted along the development of the movie. At the beginning they sound like introductory questions, at the end, they sound like answers.