Monday, November 21, 2016

Monster Picture

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) is something truly amazing: a classic horror movie written by Oscar Wilde. It stars George Sanders as a fop-about-town visiting his painter friend - who tries to duck him, of course. The painter has just painted a portrait of an extraordinarily beautiful young man, Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield). When Sanders meets Gray, he does his best to corrupt him, reminding him that his youth and beauty are fleeting. Standing beside an Egyptian cat idol, Gray makes a wish: that he should stay young while the painting ages.

Stung by Sanders' words, Gray decides to live a little, and visits a lowdown London grogshop where he hears Angela Lansbury singing the "Good-bye Little Yellow Bird" - a sort of answer song to "Just a Bird in a Gilded Cage," I guess. He is attracted to her, and following the advice of George Sanders, debauches her and pays her off. When she kills herself, he notices that the portrait now has a touch of cruelty around the lips. But since he looks the same, why not carry on as he began. So he begins to sin in earnest.

Of course, we only gets hints of the sinning. He goes into a tavern's back room with a midget - doesn't that say it all? He spends time in these low dives playing Chopin on the piano, and people around him keep killing themselves. The onscreen body count is low - one, I think - but that's enough to make this an actual horror picture.

There are even make-up effects. But the biggest special effect is the painting of the corrupted Dorian. It was painted by Ivan Albright, who had lived but a few miles from my college. This painting hung in one of our art galleries for a year, in all its ghastly splendor. The movie switches from black and white to glorious technicolor whenever the painting is shown (usually only for a few seconds).

So, we have a classic horror movie - Dorian Gray is a classic monster, he's even in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (ok, bad example, maybe). But it is also written by Oscar Wilde, with George Sanders spitting epigrams like crazy - some of which were used in Velvet Goldmine ("I prefer persons to principles"). I guess a lot of the Univeral Monsters came from legitimate literature (Jekyll and Hyde by R.L. Stevenson, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, etc), so why not.

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