TBT: The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)


Still probably the best screen adaption of Oscar Wilde’s one full novel, 1945’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is a black-and-white masterpiece, striking and still capable of shocking after all these years. Having a picture in the attic is such a well-worn cliche by now, we often don’t realize that it’s not just that the painting ages but that it reflects all of Dorian’s moral failings and grave sins. This film doesn’t need to show how terrible Dorian sinks — his first crime is tragic enough and his last his truly cold-blooded. As portrayed by Hurd Hatfield, Dorian Gray goes from naively charming to terrifyingly callous in the course of an hour or so.

My only quibble with the movie is the costumes. OK, sure, they’re fine for ’40s does late Victorian pretty much. But why begin the movie with a title card that says “London 1886”? It’s so weirdly specific and thus leaves the film open to us noticing what does NOT look 1880s. Why not just have the title card say “Victorian London” and be done with it?

I suppose, as a literary purist, I should be annoyed that the film adds a love interest who isn’t in the book, but that doesn’t irritate me as much as the 1886 thing.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

It all starts with the painting, as Basil says his hand and brush feel guided by some unseen force.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Basil’s libertine friend, Lord Henry, puts ideas in gullible young Dorian’s head.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

The original portrait — note that it’s shown in technicolor while the rest of the film is in black & white.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Thinking of Lord Henry’s pleasure-seeking advice, Dorian heads to London’s seedier side.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Where he is enchanted by the singing of Sibyl Vance.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Likewise, she falls in love with him, as he plays Chopin for her.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Screen-test photos of Angela Landsbury as Sibyl show a reasonably good Victorian lower-class costume. I’ll allow the short length since this is her stage outfit.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

This is her “everyday” outfit. It’s ye olde-timey enough.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Appropriately, she has a bird on her hat because her signature song is about a ‘little yellow bird.’

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

While the women’s costumes are generally Victorian-esque, the men’s costumes stick out the most as 1940s. Dorian’s double-breasted pinstriped suit sticks out like a sore thumb, and it’s not the only one.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

This poor cat statue (Bastet?) gets blamed for turning Dorian’s painting bad. Unfair!

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Lord Henry (center) ages, as does Basil’s neice (right), Gladys, who has the hots for Dorian, despite her would-be boyfriend’s efforts (left, in another 1940s suit).

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Gladys and Dorian get engaged … maybe!

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945)

Dorian’s misdeeds are revealed in the final portrait.


Are you a fan of what’s lurking in the attic?


About the author

Trystan L. Bass

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A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

15 Responses

  1. Mark

    Angela Lansbury (Not LanDsbury)
    Her second Movie.
    Her only movie in which her Mother appears, Moyna Macgill

  2. Frannie Germeshausen

    I love this movie. “Goodbye Little Yellow Bird.”

    • MoHub

      As a sort of inside joke, Angela Lansbury sang “Goodbye, Little Yellow Bird” in an episode of Murder, She Wrote,” playing her music-hall-performer cousin in London.

  3. crystabrittany

    omg love everything Angela Lansbury but definitely these glimpses of when she was young and wide-eyed. (I know her most from Murder, She Wrote, so you know…)

  4. Susan Pola Staples

    The men’s costumes are simply horrid. I give the a failing degrade of F. While the women’s are merely okay, so they get a C.
    I saw the movie ages ago. Neither men appealed to me as hunks.
    On the other hand, Dorian in Penny Dreadful is a hunk.

  5. decrepitelephone

    I’m pretty certain that the evening dress in the last photo is recycled from “Gaslight” of 1944 , having been used before as Ingrid Bergman’s ball gown she wore to Lady Dalroy’s ball.

    They at least look ridiculously similar.

  6. Terry Towels

    Hoo, I’m old. Recognized Donna Reed, of the 50’s Donna Reed Show (TeeVee). Peter Lawford, married to a Kennedy and one of the Rat Pack. All young and bright-eyed. I probably watched this on afternoon tv in the 50’s. Now I have to hunt for it.

    Also, 40’s hair.

  7. Elisa

    This bring back memories. When I was about eleven this was aired on the telly, and my parents forbid me to Watch it. so I saw it on the sly from the hallway behind my parnets back. The end, where Dorian transforms into his true hideous self, came as a complete shock, and I dreamt nightmares for weeks. But I couldn’t tell my parent’s about it.

    Now I see it has George Sanders. I Think I need to revisit this Movie! I’ll probably find it very tame now. :)

  8. Mrs. D

    That painting is an Ivan Albright and hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago along with a few of his others. It is even more terrible and grotesque in person. If you are a fan of the movie, I would strongly recommend seeing it in person if you’re ever in Chicago.

  9. Julia

    The Picture of Dorian Gray is my favorite novel but I can’t do this movie. George Sander is a wonderful Harry and Angela Lansbury is super cute as Sybil but everyone and everything else just feels so wrong. Even though is it isn’t great either there is a 70s version that I prefer, no idea why.

  10. Michael Mårten Neiss

    The interior design of Dorian’s house (a Regency style with a few drops of Art déco aesthetics) deserves an article of its own. It is truly breathtaking!