Dorian Gray, tempted by his friend Lord Henri, grows deadly afraid of growing old and losing his youth. He places his soul on a portrait made of him by his painter friend, and after the suicide of his first love Sibyl, Dorian goes into a downward spiral of sin, pleasure and vice, a big no-no in Victorian England. Soon murder will be in the agenda, and every evil deed will be reflected as the painting turns more from a young beautiful man in to a corrupt, disgusting old man covered in blood.
Based on the novel by Oscar Wilde, this is one of the few attempts made by Hollywood to make a serious horror film, or in their eyes, a drama. But it’s obviously horror, and it’s mostly reflected in the gothic cinematography that was exemplary in the horror of the time, such as in the Spencer Tracy Jekyll & Hyde and The Spiral Staircase. It shows the streets of London as a dark and immoral place outdoors, but indoors beautiful and serene, a clash that reflects that of the story. But a lot of the energy comes from the cast. Hurd Hatfield is perfect as Dorian Gray, he is cold and emotionless, and you could truly believe he was a soulless playboy. This is also Angela Lansbury’s first film, in the role of the sad and doomed Sybil, the woman who’s death sends Dorian into his evil ways. But it’s George Sanders, cinema’s greatest asshole, as Lord Henry who steals the show. He’s downright hateful, and the worst part is that he does it in such a nice, British way. His first scene, where he’s explaining the nature and evil of the soul as he’s killing a butterfly, is downright chilling, and a great bit of acting from Sanders part.
If there is one thing that hurts the film, is the fact that it’s reduced into a gimmicky nature by showing the footage of the painting in color. This movie’s good enough as it is, there’s no reason to reduce itself to such a level. But in it’s defense, the painting is pretty damn scary and grotesque, and in the end, as Dorian stabs the painting and his physical shape turns into that of the creature in the painting, is a very chilling image and a great ‘last image’ in the film. If you like old school horror films, you’ll definitely like this one.