The Picture of Dorian Gray

Along with the films that won the Oscar for Best Picture, I am going to watch Hugo and Nebula winning dramatic presentations when we get there. 1946 is the first year where I hadn’t already seen the Retro Hugo winner for that year (released in 1945, the same as The Lost Weekend). The previous years were: 1939 (The War of the Worlds), 1941 (Pinocchio and Fantasia) and 1943 (Bambi).

Although there are four earlier winners of a Retro Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, the 1946 Retro Hugos were the first to be given out, on the 50th anniversary of the 1946 Worldcon in 1996. (The 1939, 1941 and 1943 awards were made 75 years on, in 2014, 2016 and 2018; and we will do 1944 Retro Hugos next year in Dublin.) The other finalists were Blithe Spirit, The Body Snatcher, The Horn Blows at Midnight and House of Dracula. IMDB users also rank The Picture of Dorian Gray ahead of the others. I have not seen any of them – in fact I had not seen any films made in 1945 at all until I watched The Lost Weekend a couple of days before The Picture of Dorian Gray.

I am a huge fan of the original Oscar Wilde novel, and it’s delightful to see it transformed to the screen so faithfully – not so much interms of plot, but in terms of aesthetic. The film won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, partly on foot of the eponymous portrait, the only moment of colour in the black and white film:

But also I enjoyed very much watching Angela Lansbury, aged 20, in her second screen role after Gaslight, stealing every scene she is in, clearly recognisable as the future star of Murder She Wrote.

And George Sanders is having a blast as the Oscar Wilde character, Lord Henry Wotton (on the left here with Hurd Hatfield as Dorian Gray and Lowell Gilmore as the painter Basil Hallward; this was the peak of both their careers):

The uncredited narrator is Sir Cedric Hardwicke, often carrying the story while Hatfield is acting silently agonised as Gray. He threw me a bit in the first sentence by pronouncing “secretive” as /səˈkriːtɪv/ instead of /ˈsiːkrətɪv/, ie with the stress and long vowel in the second syllable rather than the first. Polls of my followers on both Twitter and Facebook indicate that this is a minority choice.

More negatively, what is striking is that just as with The Lost Weekend, the gay elements of the original are very much downplayed. It’s not as bad as The Lost Weekend – Hurd Hatfield is I think definitely coded as gay – and one of the delights of the film is that Dorian Gray’s debauchery is deliciously hinted at rather than shown – but it’s another example of erasure.

Even so, I enjoyed watching it. You can get it here.

The next Retro Hugo for Dramatic Presentation went to Destination Moon, in 2001 for 1951.