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Thursday, December 25, 2014

'The Picture of Dorian Gray' DVD: Wonderfully Wilde Victorian Era Morality Tale

Picture of Dorian Gray, The (1945) (BD)
The exceptional Warner Archive Blu-ray release of the 1945 classic drama "The Picture of Dorian Gray" (i.e., every picture is worth a 1,000 months) based on the Oscar Wilde novel of the same name is perfect for a Christmas Day review. This beautifully filmed and well-acted Victorian-era fable looks wonderful in BD and presents strong related messages regarding the wages of sin and the consequences of succumbing to bad influences and basic instincts. In other words, virtue trumps vice.

The following YouTube clip of the original theatrical trailer for "Gray" clearly shows that they do not make those like they used to either. The footage highlights the Oscar-winning use of black-and-white, and the voice-over narration arguably is the best EVER for this type of promo.


The titular portrait subject is a 20-something London gentleman who is a model (of course, pun intended) of propriety when he sits for the titular artwork. A chance encounter with the less reputable Lord Henry Wotton while arriving at the studio of the artist of the work sets Gray down a very dark path. George Sanders of too many classic films to try to mention does his usual wonderful job as Wotton.

A philosophical discussion with Wotton leads to Gray making the same oft-committed mistake of Major Nelson in the '60s sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie" regarding an off-the-cuff wish. In this case, Gray succeeds in maintaining his youthful appearance at the expense of his portrait bearing the marks of his youthful (and not so boyish) indiscretions.

This scene and a related later one include an incredible splash of color that alone scream out for purchasing this movie in BD.

The proverbially lethal combination of the bad influence of Wotton and a seeming "get out of jail free" card prompts Gray to engage in a couple of decades of despicable behavior. An early victim is low-rent singer Sibyl Vane, wonderfully played by Angela Lansbury, who pays a couple of high prices for offering Gray what he requests.

Things get exceptionally dark and violent as Gray continues his malicious streak and increasingly confuses his friends as his appearance remains constant as the years pass.The depiction of this escalation is a large part of what makes "Gray" both such a great and relatively deep (but highly accessible) film.

America's sweetheart Donna Reed of her eponymous sitcom and BEST EVER Christmas classic "Its A Wonderful Life," also does well as the adult daughter of the creator of the portrait. The daughter of a painter man becomes infatuated with Gray when he visits her home during her childhood and they become romantically involved roughly 20 years later.

This relationship also plays a significant role in the highly dramatic classic ending scene in "Gray."

Having Angela Lansbury and historian Steve Haberman provide commentary for "Gray" presents great temptation to break the principle of not listening to these generally merely distracting remarks during the film.

The Oscar-winning short "Stairway to Light" about 19th century mental health pioneer Phillipe Penel is just as fascinating as the feature film; the also Oscar-winning Tom and Jerry cartoon "Quiet Please" is a wonderful reminder of this type of animation in the "good ole days" before buzzkills censor sequences such as a mouse shooting multiple bullets at a cat.

The moral to all this is that "Gray" is a personal long-time favorite that is just as entertaining and fascinating on the twentieth viewing as it is on the first. Every picture tells a story worth telling, don't it?

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Gray" is strongly encouraged to either email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.