Evil at rest

There have been quite a number of versions of the Dorian Gray story - probably for two very good reasons. For one, Oscar Wylde's book has been in the public domain for a while now (it happens to have been the first - and only, so far - novel I have read entirely on the Internet). And also, the descent of a man into evil - or at least chronic amorality - is a very compelling subject.

While I can't say whether the story had fallen to public domain by the filming of this version, it was the first attempt with dialog, and quite a literary one at that. The air is filled with talking, from a narrator, to character voiceovers, and more poetry recitation than we saw for the whole of the 80s. The plot is mostly faithful to the original novel, perhaps a little too closely for modern tastes, but it fits the literary bent of the film.

Do I really have to mention the bit about how aristocratic young Dorian has his portrait done, and magically - something to do with wishing and an Egyptian cat statue - the portrait grows old, while Dorian remains young and perfect, at least in appearance? You could take the story as a critique of the pointlessness of a life of leisure, but this isn't literary criticism - it's film.

We get early performances from Angela Lansbury and Donna Reed, as Dorian's two main love interestes. George Sanders is Lord Wotton, billed above Hurd Hatfield as Dorian. He starts off well enough, but as the film progresses, the character loses energy. Perhaps he was directed toward being cold and impassive, but the drag this creates on the film is perceptible, even with the already deliberate pace.

This 1945 version of Dorian Gray is slow, talky, and a bit self-important, but it does do a good job of telling the story. I'm a bit more fond of my VHS copy of the 1970 version of the story, though I doubt it really rates as a better movie, it flows better and has the certain kitschy aspect bad movies can have. All the same, that's only two versions I've seen, and about seven more to go - at current count.

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