Directed by Albert Lewin [Other horror films: The Living Idol (1957)]
While certainly more a morality tale than a straight horror film, there’s a reason that this classic is often listed as part of the genre, especially come the end of the film in it’s debauched glory.
More than anything, The Picture of Dorian Gray questions morality. Personally, when it comes to many aspects of the hedonistic lifestyle portrayed in the film, I didn’t have a big deal with it. It was a different time, though, so if you can get past how tame Dorian’s ‘sins’ seem (some of the worst stuff is off-screen, only alluded to), you can have a good time.
The cast here is stellar. Hurd Hatfield does a great job as the debonair but somewhat soulless Gray, and his youthful appearance lends credibility to the story. He’s never really been in much that I’ve seen, but given that this was only his second role, it shows the quality of his performance. Honestly, though, George Sanders and his amoral character impressed me more. He was witty, fun, and most importantly, entirely able to defend the actions others see as questionable. Sanders here really brought a great character to life.
Donna Reed and Angela Lansbury played two love interests of Gray at different periods of his life. Reed was decent, but it was Lansbury who made a bigger impression, and the scene in which she’s singing prior to meeting Gray was great. Her time with Gray was short and tragic, especially come the test of her virtuousness (all thanks to Sanders’ character).
One more name need be mentioned, and that’s Cedric Hardwicke, who narrated the film. I sometimes have an issue with narration (look at how awful it was in Curse of the Faceless Man), but it was very solid here, and only added to the tone of the film.
Another thing very much worth pointing out was how, despite the film being black-and-white, there were a few scenes in full color, when first showing the titular picture of Dorian Gray and again toward the end once, showing just how far his soul has fallen (which led to some unnecessary “Pray for your soul, Dorian,” stuff, but whateves, I can deal with it). It was a very effective use of dramatic coloring, and that, coupled with a murder that happens moments after the second portrait reveal, really bring the horror element of the film to the forefront for those scenes.
When it comes to classic films, it’s not uncommon for horror elements to get mixed up with heavy dollops of drama, and this movie is a prime example of that. For fans of modern-day horror, The Picture of Dorian Gray might not be up to their standards. It’s a great mixture, though, of a morality tale, throwing in elements of romance, horror, and the desire for one to better himself. Certainly a movie that’s recommended, and referred to a ‘classic’ for a reason.