A Wilde Portrait of Evil in “The Picture Dorian Gray’

More than 45 years after it was released, the movie made of Oscar Wilde’s tale of the price of eternal youth is still well worth seeing.

“The Picture of Dorian Gray,” set in London in 1886, follows the life of a young man who unwittingly barters away his soul in exchange for perpetual youth. While he remains young and unchanged, a portrait of him ages hideously.

Hurd Hatfield plays the title role of an innocent man who offhandedly remarks that he would give anything to remain as young as he looks in the portrait being painted by his friend Basil. Without knowing that his wish has been granted, Dorian falls under the influence of Lord Henry (George Sanders), a self-professed hedonist with a barbed wit and a manipulative nature.


Under Lord Henry’s tutelage, Dorian becomes an amoral thrill-seeker, eventually treating even loved ones as objects to be manipulated for pleasure. Angela Lansbury received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress for her role as Dorian’s hapless fiancee, who learns too late how despicable he truly is. Donna Reed portrays a later love who narrowly escapes his wiles.

As the years go by, Dorian begins to take pride in the terrible changes that take place in the painting with each new cruelty he commits. After sprees of debauchery, he scrutinizes the portrait--which is locked away in a room upstairs--for further proof of his moral corruption. Blood appears on the canvas after he murders a man to ensure his secret is safe.

Still, Dorian remains aloof from the pain he causes until a man seeking revenge begins to hunt him down. And in the end, he must decide whether it is too late to try and erase the corruption from his soul.

The movie, filmed in black and white except for two color scenes that show the painting’s horrible changes, won an Academy Award for best cinematography.

“The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945), directed by Albert Lewin. 111 minutes. Not rated.