The Picture of Dorian Gray, Happy Anniversary! Another Premiere Date Corrupted.

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Tradeshows of, The Picture of Dorian Gray were in Los Angeles and New York on February 23, 1945, giving exhibitors and critics the privilege and pleasure of that first viewing. Other tradeshows were not scheduled at that time but were to be set at a later date.[1]

The World Premiere of The Picture of Dorian Gray was held at the Capitol Theater, at Broadway and 51st Street, in New York on March 1, 1945.[2] This premiere was attended by Dorian Gray star Hurd Hatfield and his parents,[3] and MGM contract players: Lena Horne, Robert Walker, Xavier Cugat and his band. The first day gross topped any MGM picture that had opened at the Capitol;[4] the aforementioned trio of MGM stars continued on as a daily attraction (sometimes only Cugat, his orchestra and Horne) for the complete five week run of the movie, bringing in high numbers through the turnstiles.[5]

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Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, March 1, 1945

Showmens Trade Review, March 10, 1945

Showmen’s Trade Review, March 10, 1945

 

The West Coast first-showings were in Los Angeles, on Tuesday, March 27, 1945, at three theaters: the Ritz, the Los Angeles and the Egyptian. In each case Dorian Gray broke opening day box-office records for those three movie houses.[6]

Further release of Dorian Gray in New York started after the Capitol run, first at the Lowe’s State Theater in Times Square and then to the Lowe’s Metropolitan.[7] What followed the New York circulation of Dorian Gray was what MGM described as “test engagements,” providing a thirty-page manual (prepared by Oscar Doob) for the Gray engagements at Lowe’s theaters in Houston, Rochester and New Orleans. In addition, test engagements were seen at Lowe’s theaters in other select markets; opening on May 9 in Richmond and May 10 in Memphis, Norfolk and Kansas City.[8] It was toward the end of May that Dorian Gray began its actual national release and it was full-steam ahead by June for this unique classic.

The Picture of Dorian Gray was directed by Albert Lewin, who seldom took the director’s chair ( just 7 credits over 15 years) and is highlighted by the superb Oscar winning work by Harry Stradling Sr. for Black and White cinematography, guiding the viewer through the Gray skewed landscape, coupled with the eerie Academy Award nominated Black and White Art Direction by Cedric Gibbons and Hans Peters, Interior Decoration by Edwin B. Willis, Hugh Hunt, John Bonar, (in a year when they probably should have won the Oscar); Gray is a powerful piece of preternatural picture making. And not forgetting Angela Lansbury’s performance as Sibyl Vane, she won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress and gathered an Oscar nomination for the same category; The Picture of Dorian Gray, was her third film and her second Academy Award nomination (Gaslight, 1944, was her first). George Sanders, Donna Reed and Peter Lawford acquitted themselves nicely, but it was Hurd Hatfield who really changed the fortunes of Gray, his restrained, haughty, lustful, pretended erudite façade of Dorian was a masterful turn, a potential reached, that he would never duplicate in his career (few others have achieved such degradation of character on screen), or come close to this notable, Oscar worthy (yes, I believe, it was a weak field in the Best Actor category[9]) performance.

All of Oscar Wilde’s cautionary chiding against excess, lust, greed, and narcissism are kept intact for this film version, and even though it was made in 1945, the clarity of the debauched lifestyle, the carelessness, the harshness comes through in vivid faithfulness. I have included some excerpts from contemporary film-critics; the Picture of Dorian Gray is available on DVD, I hope you enjoy this unforgettable movie as much I do.

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By C. S. Williams


[1] Motion Picture Daily, February 9, 1945

Film Daily, February 19, 1945

[2] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) February 28; March 1, 1945

[3] Showmen’s Trade Review, March 10, 1945

[4] Film Daily, March 5, 1945

[5] Motion Picture Daily, March 27, 1945

[6] Film Daily, March 29, 1945

[7] Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) April 25; May 3,  1945

[8] Motion Picture Daily, May 2, 1945

[9] Bing Crosby, The Bells of St. Mary’s {Father O’Malley)

Gene Kelly, Anchors Aweigh (Joseph Brady)

Ray Milland, The Lost Weekend (Don Birnam)

Gregory Peck, The Keys of the Kingdom (Father Francis Chisholm)

Cornel Wilde, A Song to Remember (Frederick Chopin)

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