1945’s Picture of Dorian Gray is a fascinating and at times, a disturbing watch for me. As someone who considers herself a rather unflappable mature adult, I still shudder a little at the suggestion that a painting (the original being haunting enough in its own right) manifesting and representing the depravity of a human soul at waste. But it is not the extreme end result that troubles me; the most unsettling phase is the subtle change Dorian (Hurd Hatfield) notices in the painting following his brief mourning of Sibyl Vain (a 19-year old Angela Lansbury in an Oscar-nominated role).
While I have not read the source material, another popular culture reference from television made me seek this film out. The late Ted Knight had a sitcom in the 1980’s called “Too Close for Comfort.” An episode aired that at the time, my 9-10 year old mind could not wrap my head around but I knew enough to feel a bit unsettled. In the episode (or what I vaguely remember about it), Ted was feeling guilty about something and this guilt manifested in his portrait, much in the way Dorian’s portrait would alter with each act of moral decay. On the television show, I believe the portrait went a step further and even spoke to Ted – creepy stuff indeed. Anyway, for some reason that image resonated with me and stuck with me long before I fully knew who Oscar Wilde or Dorian Gray were.
With this frame of reference, I have seen this film at least 2 or 3 times and it still works for me on the levels that I would anticipate it would and should. While there are a few deviations from Wilde’s text, the one element that does not fit at times is the inclusion of Donna Reed’s character as Dorian’s love interest (niece of the portrait painter) and possible key to redemption/salvation. Apparently in the text, this person is represented by a vicar’s daughter who Dorian romances near the end of the novel.
What really propels this film is the story. As previously mentioned, the external representation of a lost soul, is a powerful concept. This really got me thinking about if this were possible, how would people react? Would they do as Dorian does or will they look at this power as an opportunity to represent the best in their (and human) nature.
I am pretty sure that is what is exactly what the author Oscar Wilde wanted us to start to think about. There are so many other ideas related to youth and beauty, hedonism, Faust, etc. that I cannot easily or succinctly list them here; for additional references I refer you to the SparkNotes entry for the book.
This list, extracted from Wikipedia, is a comprehensive and chronological collection of other films adaptations for Dorian Gray; for my edification, I may catch the 2009 version starring Ben Barnes and Colin Firth as Lord Henry, the individual catalyst in Dorian downward spiral.
- Dorian Grays Portræt (1910)
- The Picture of Dorian Gray (1913)
- Directed by Phillips Smalley
- Starring Wallace Reid as Dorian Gray
- The Picture of Dorian Gray (1916)
- Directed by Fred W Durrant; screenplay by Rowland Talbot
- Starring Henry Victor as Dorian Gray; Sydney Bland as Basil Hallward; Jack Jordan as Henry Wotton; Pat O’Malley as Sybil Vane
- Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray (1917)
- Directed by Richard Oswald; screenplay by Richard Oswald
- Starring Bernd Aldor as Dorian Gray; Ernst Ludwig as Basil Hallward; Ernst Pittschau as Henry Wotton; Lea Lara as Sibyl Vane
- Az Élet királya (1918)
- Directed by Alfréd Deésy; screenplay by József Pakots
- Starring Norbert Dán as Dorian Gray; Gusztáv Turán as Basil Hallward; Bela Lugosi (credited as Arisztid Olt) as Henry Wotton; Ila Lóth as Sibyl Vane
- El Retrato de Dorian Gray (1969). Telenovela produced by Televisa.
- Directed and Produced by Ernesto Alonso
- Starring Enrique Alvarez Felix as Dorian Gray
- Dorian Gray, also known as The Evils of Dorian Gray or The Secret of Dorian Gray (1970)
- The Picture of Dorian Gray (1973) (made-for-television)
- Directed by Glenn Jordan; screenplay by John Tomerlin
- Starring Shane Briant as Dorian Gray; Charles Aidman as Basil Hallward; Nigel Davenport as Henry Wotton; Vanessa Howard as Sybil Vane
- The Picture of Dorian Gray (1976) (made-for-television)
- Le Portrait de Dorian Gray (1977)
- Directed by Pierre Boutron; screenplay by Pierre Boutron
- Starring Patrice Alexsandre as Dorian Gray; Denis Manuel as Basil Hallward; Raymond Gérôme as Henry Wotton; Marie-Hélène Breillat as Sybil
- The Sins of Dorian Gray (1983) (made-for-television)
- Directed by Tony Maylam; screenplay by Ken August and Peter Lawrence
- Starring Belinda Bauer as a female Dorian Gray; Anthony Perkins as Henry Lord
- Dorian, also known as Pact with the Devil (2001)
- Directed by Allan A Goldstein; screenplay by Peter Jobin and Ron Raley
- Starring Ethan Erickson as Louis/Dorian; Malcolm McDowell as Henry Wotton; Amy Sloan as Sybil
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003)
- Directed by Stephen Norrington
- Starring Stuart Townsend as Dorian Gray
- Dorian (2004)
- Written and Directed by Brendan Dougherty Russo
- Starring Andrew Vanette as Dorian Gray; Stephen Fontana as Basil Hallward; Michael Multari as Henry; Danielle Matarese as Sibyl Vane
- The Picture of Dorian Gray (2004)
- Directed by David Rosenbaum; screenplay by David Rosenbaum
- Starring Josh Duhamel as Dorian Gray; Rainer Judd as Basil Ward; Branden Waugh as Harry Wotton (changed from Henry for unknown reasons); Darby Stanchfield as Sybil Vane; Brian Durkin as James Vane
- The Picture of Dorian Gray (2006)
- Directed by Duncan Roy; screenplay by Duncan Roy
- Starring David Gallagher as Dorian Gray
- The Picture of Dorian Gray (2007)
- Directed by Jon Cunningham; screenplay by Jon Cunningham and Deborah Warner
- “The Picture (of Dorian Gray)” (2009)
- Directed by Jonathan Courtemanche; script by Neal Utterback
- Starring Hanna Dillon, Lawrence Evans, and Miles Heymann
- Dorian Gray (2009)