THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY
Many genre purveyors call The Picture of Dorian Gray a classic but seen today it is melodramatic and certainly less than that. For that matter, so too is the Oscar Wilde novel, which was a minor cause celebre in its time but is a tame read today. The Picture of Dorian Gray is certainly a handsomely mounted film but is frustratingly bland. Hurd Hatfield seems out of place as Dorian he seeming neither handsome nor dashingly cruel, only blank. Crucially, the film never engages with any aspect of its subjects libertine hedonism. All of the Dorians cruelties are aspects that are only ascribed to him, never ones that we see him actively engaged in. Apart from the seduction of a young Angela Lansbury, we never even find out what it is that Dorian does that is so cruel even there the Hays Code prevents the film from using a word like seduction. As a result, we have a film that gets very morally outraged about not much at all.
The other annoying aspect of the story is simply its Wilde-ism. George Sanders is cast as Oscar Wilde in all but name. He has virtually no other purpose in the film than to spout pithy Wilde-isms: The one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties, I will always choose my friends for their good looks and my enemies for their good intellect, I like persons better than principles and persons with no principles better than anything in the world, To repeat ones youth, one has merely to repeat ones follies, Faithfulness is merely laziness, You will find that women treat us [men] like humanity treats gods they worship us and keep bothering us to do something, and such like. The perpetual smugness of Sanders character ends up becoming irritating.
The Picture of Dorian Gray comes from Albert Lewin, an American screenwriter and novelist who directed half-a-dozen films, including other works such as The Moon and Sixpence (1942), The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947) and Saadia (1953). Lewin made two other ventures into genre material with Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) based on the legend of the Flying Dutchman and The Living Idol (1957) about a cursed statue.
Other film adaptations of The Picture of Dorian Gray include a number of versions made during the silent era in 1910, 1913, 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918. These are all lost today. The other sound versions are Dorian Grey (1970), producer Harry Alan Towers notoriously bad sexploitation version; The Picture of Dorian Grey (1973), Dan Curtiss tv movie version starring Shane Briant; The Sins of Dorian Grey (1983), a tv movie version, where Dorian is made into a woman played by Belinda Bauer; Dorian/Pact with the Devil (2001); The Picture of Dorian Gray (2004) starring Josh Duhamel; The Picture of Dorian Gray (2006); and Oliver Parkers excellent big-budget adaptation Dorian Gray (2009) starring Ben Barnes. The Phantom of the Paradise (1974) includes a spoof, among other genre homages. Dorian Gray even turns up as one of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) played by Stuart Townsend and as a regular character in the tv series Penny Dreadful (2014-6) played by Reeve Carney, while variations on the plot appear in episodes of Blakes 7 (1978-81) and Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94).