The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945 film)

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The Picture of Dorian Gray
Promotional poster
Directed by Albert Lewin
Produced by Pandro S. Berman
Screenplay by Albert Lewin
Based on The Picture of Dorian Gray 
by Oscar Wilde
Starring George Sanders
Hurd Hatfield
Donna Reed
Angela Lansbury
Peter Lawford
Narrated by Cedric Hardwicke
Music by Herbert Stothart
Cinematography Harry Stradling
Edited by Ferris Webster
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • March 1, 1945 (1945-03-01)
Running time
110 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,918,000[2]
Box office $2,975,000[2][3]

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a 1945 American horror-drama film based on Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel of the same name. Released in March 1945 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the film is directed by Albert Lewin and stars George Sanders as Lord Henry Wotton and Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray. Shot primarily in black-and-white, the film features four inserts in 3-strip Technicolor of Dorian's portrait as a special effect (the first two of his portrait's original state, and the second two after a major period of degeneration).


Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield) is a handsome, wealthy young man living in 19th century London. While generally intelligent, he is naive and easily manipulated. These faults lead to his spiral into sin and, ultimately, misery.

While posing for a painting by his friend Basil Hallward (Lowell Gilmore), Dorian meets Basil's friend Lord Henry Wotton (George Sanders). Wotton is cynical and witty, and tells Dorian that the only life worth living is one dedicated entirely to pleasure. After Wotton convinces Dorian that youth and beauty will bring him everything he desires, Dorian openly wishes that his portrait could age instead of him. He makes this statement in the presence of a certain Egyptian statue, which supposedly has the power to grant wishes.

Dorian visits a tavern, where he falls in love with a beautiful singer named Sibyl Vane (Angela Lansbury). He eventually enters a romance with her, despite the disapproval of Sibyl's brother James (Richard Fraser), and within weeks they are engaged. Though initially overjoyed, Dorian is again persuaded by Lord Henry to pursue a more hedonistic lifestyle. Dorian sends Sibyl a hurtful letter, breaking off their relationship and "compensating" her with a large sum of money.

The next morning, Lord Henry informs Dorian that a heartbroken Sibyl Vane had killed herself the night before. Dorian is at first shocked and guilt-ridden but then adopts Lord Henry's indifferent manner. He surprises Basil by going to the opera immediately after hearing of Sibyl's death. Returning home that night, Dorian notices a change in the portrait Basil had painted, which now hangs in his living room. The portrait looks harsher, and a shaken Dorian has it locked away in his old school room. He becomes even more dedicated to living a sinful and heartless life.

Hurd Hatfield in The Picture of Dorian Gray trailer.jpg
Angela Lansbury in The Picture of Dorian Gray trailer.jpg
Peter Lawford in The Picture of Dorian Gray trailer.jpg

Years later, Dorian is nearing his fortieth birthday, but he looks the same as he did when he was twenty-two. The townspeople are awestruck at his unchanging appearance. Over eighteen years of pointless debauchery, the portrait remained locked away, with Dorian holding the only key. Dorian had grown more and more paranoid about the picture's being seen by others; he would even fire servants that he thought might suspect something. Over the years, the painting of the young Dorian had warped into that of a hideous, demon-like creature to reflect Dorian's sins. Basil eventually catches a glimpse of the portrait and attempts to talk Dorian into reforming his life. However, Dorian panics and murders his friend, leaving the body locked in the school room with the painting.

Dorian blackmails an old friend, Allen Campbell (Douglas Walton), into disposing of Basil's body secretly. He then enters into a romance with Basil's niece, Gladys (Donna Reed), who was a young child when the portrait was painted. Though Gladys had always loved Dorian (and is overjoyed when he proposes marriage), those who were once close to him begin to find him suspicious.

Dorian begins to realize the harm his life is doing to himself and to others. He is assaulted by James Vane, Sibyl's brother, who had sworn revenge for his sister's death. Dorian calmly tells James that he is too young to be the same man from eighteen years before. However, James soon learns the truth, but he is shot by accident during a hunting party at Dorian's estate while hiding in the bushes. Dorian knows he is guilty of yet another death and realizes he can still spare Gladys from the misfortune he would certainly cause her. After leaving her a letter explaining himself, he returns to his old school room to face the painting. After stabbing his portrait in the heart to be free of its evil spell, Dorian collapses and dies.

Dorian's body is found by Gladys, Lord Henry and others, but it is now the monstrous creature from the painting. The portrait once again depicts Dorian as a young, innocent man.


Differences from the novel[edit]

Relationship to Sybil Vane

In Wilde's original, Sybil Vane is a Shakespearean actress whom Dorian observes playing Juliet, rather than the gifted music-hall singer seen in this film. This necessitates altering Dorian's motive for breaking up with her. In the novel, her acting has become shallow as a result of really falling in love with Dorian, and his sense of illusion has been dissipated. In the film, she fails a virtue test which Dorian has been talked into by Lord Henry.

In the context of those confessions to Sibyl, the film has Dorian reading her a poem about cats and sensual temptation which he tells her is "by an Irishman named Oscar Wilde." It is, in fact, a very short excerpt from Oscar Wilde's 1894 poem "The Sphinx". Similarly, the use of Omar Khayam's poetry is distinctive to this film.

In the film, Sybil calls Dorian "Sir Tristan", in the novel "Prince Charming".

Dorian's final marriage
  • In the novel, Dorian's final flirtation before his death is with a village girl; In the film, it is to Gladys. In the film, Gladys is Basil Hallward's niece, who had a childhood crush on Dorian, whereas in the novel Gladys is the Duchess of Monmouth, married to a sixty-year-old man, and the sister of Geoffrey Clouston (whose day of shooting is ruined when he kills James Vane).
  • In the novel, Dorian's "good deed" that he hoped would finally change the portrait was to break up with Hetty Merton, the village girl, rather than to break up with Gladys.
  • Dorian's body is found by Dorian's servants at the end of the novel, but by Gladys, Lord Henry, and Gladys' former suitor at the end of the film.
  • Unlike the film, the novel has no reference to Dorian being painted with an Egyptian cat-shaped goddess who could grant his wish.
  • In the novel, Henry's final speech to Dorian Gray about the soul being "non-material but corruptible" is one he claims to have heard from a street-preacher. In the film, Dorian hears these words himself from a street-preacher.

The painting of Dorian Gray[edit]

Albright's painting of Dorian Gray, from the 1945 film

The painting entitled Picture of Dorian Gray[4] used in the film was painted on commission during the making of the film in 1943-1944 by Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, an American artist who was well known as a painter of the macabre. Created specifically for use in the film, it is now part of the art collection of The Art Institute of Chicago. Albright had to paint the picture while the movie was being made in order to show Dorian Gray's physical transformation as his evil actions changed him into a horrid image in the painting, while his actual physical appearance remained that of a young man. At the film's climax, Gray "killed" the painting by piercing it through its heart with a knife, thus killing himself when his physical appearance changed to that of the painting.


The first piano piece played by Dorian to Sybil is Frédéric Chopin's "Préludes, Op. 28: 24. Allegro appassionato d-moll."

Box office[edit]

According to MGM records, the film earned $1,399,000 in the U.S. and Canada and $1,576,000 elsewhere, resulting in a loss of $26,000.[2]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Result Category Recipient
1946 Academy Award Nominated Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White John Bonar, Cedric Gibbons, Hugh Hunt, Hans Peters
and Edwin B. Willis
Nominated Best Actress in a Supporting Role Angela Lansbury
Won Best Cinematography, Black-and-White Harry Stradling, Sr.[a]
Golden Globe Award Won Best Supporting Actress Angela Lansbury
Hugo Award Won Best Dramatic Presentation


  1. ^ This Oscar win for Cinematography is a rare demonstration of respect for a horror film.[5]


  1. ^ "THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (A)". British Board of Film Classification. 1945-04-04. Retrieved 2013-01-27. 
  2. ^ a b c The Eddie Mannix Ledger, Los Angeles: Margaret Herrick Library, Center for Motion Picture Study .
  3. ^ Scott Eyman, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, Robson, 2005 p 337
  4. ^ Information about Picture of Dorian Gray in the Art Institute of Chicago
  5. ^ Vieira, Mark A. (2003). Hollywood Horror: From Gothic to Cosmic. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. p. 117. ISBN 0-8109-4535-5. 

External links[edit]