“Youth is wasted on the young.” According to legend, Shaw said that. Ironic in that today’s movie comes from Wilde’s novel (and now I have to take a break and watch the Monty Python Wilde sketch).
Right. Back now. Anyway, I’ve always appreciated that sentiment. To retain youth and vigor along with one’s years of accumulated knowledge and experience… Well, it’s likely that I waste far too much time and energy thinking of what I’d do differently if I knew then what I know now. I suppose that’s why The Picture Of Dorian Gray holds such appeal for me.
Much to the shock and dismay, I’m sure, of my esteemed literature-teaching colleagues, I’ve never, gasp and swoon, read the novel. I should. I know. But I’ve seen a number of different movie versions numerous times, five in particular: 1945, 1970, 1973, 2002, and 2009. Of those, far and away my favorite is 1945.
I don’t mind the other portrayals at all. The 1973 television version is even okay, given what it is. The least interesting I’ve seen was not an adaptation of the novel, but the character as he appears in major disappointment that was The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Of the others, the 1970 version deserves a brief mention. Looking très hip and mod, it takes place amid the loosened sexual mores of the late 60s. Helmut Berger is the handsome and fashionable Gray. As Lord Henry Wotton, Herbert Lom leads him down the path of callous hedonism. It’s an effective visual pair, much like Lom and Udo Kier in Mark Of The Devil.
It’s also easy and no accident to pick up some Italian vibes here. Fistful Of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More cinematographer Massimo Dallamano would go on to direct this as well as What Have You Done To Solange and What Have They Done To Your Daughters.
But back to 1945. It’s still my favorite. First off, George Sanders. He’s Lord Henry Wotton in this one, complete with a devilish little Van Dyke. From Rebecca to Dorian Gray to All About Eve to Jungle Book, the man just oozes sophisticated malice.
Hurd Hatfield doesn’t particularly stand out any more than any other portrayal but remains completely watchable. Some folks have complained that the movie is slow, and while the nearly 2-hour runtime doesn’t exactly whiz by, this was a novel first– with a philosophical point to make at that.
The scene-stealer throughout the movie, however, is the portrait itself which would be very much at home in Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, but now lives at the Art Institute Of Chicago. The artist, Ivan Albright, was known his use of magic realism and was hailed as a “master of the macabre.” The only drawback is that it can be tricky to find a version where the portrait gets shown in color. The effect in black-and-white still holds up, but color, well, just have a look.