The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A corrupt young man somehow keeps his youthful beauty, but a special painting gradually reveals his inner ugliness to all.

  • In 1886, in Victorian London, the corrupt Lord Henry Wotton (George Sanders) meets the pure Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield) posing for talented painter Basil Hallward (Lowell Gilmore). Basil paints Dorian's portrait and gives the beautiful painting and an Egyptian sculpture of a cat to him, while Henry corrupts his mind and soul, telling him that Dorian should seek pleasure in life. Dorian wishes that his portrait could age instead of him. Dorian goes to a side show in the Two Turtles in the poor neighborhood of London, and he falls in love with singer Sibyl Vane (Dame Angela Lansbury). Dorian decides to marry her and tells Lord Henry, who convinces him to test the honor of Sibyl. Dorian Gray leaves Sibyl and travels abroad, and when he returns to London, Lord Henry tells him that Sibyl committed suicide for love. Throughout the years, Dorian's friends age while he is still the same, but his picture discloses his evilness and corruptive life. Can he still have salvation, or is his soul trapped in the doomed painting?

  • Handsome, young, but morally corrupt Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield) has his portrait made. As the years pass, he does not age, but evidence of his sins are apparent in his portrait, which grows uglier with each transgression. He keeps it safely hidden in the attic. But his mysterious behavior and ageless appearance begin to attract suspicion.

  • Innocent young Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield) has his portrait painted by a close friend. Soon afterward, under the influence of amoral Lord Henry Wotton (George Sanders), he jilts his fiancée, leading to her suicide. This is the start of a life of increasing debauchery, Gray, realizing that the outward signs of this are apparent only in the portrait. Eventually the picture, secretly hidden in his childhood playroom, becomes almost hideous to behold. But Gray still has one pure love - Gladys Hallward (Donna Reed), the niece of the original painter.



The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield) is a young man living in late-19th century London. While wealthy, charming, generally intelligent and very handsome, he is naive and easily manipulated. These faults lead to his spiral into sin and, ultimately, misery.

    While posing for a painting by his artist friend Basil Hallward (Lowell Gilmore), Dorian meets Basil's friend Lord Henry Wotton (George Sanders). Wotton is enchantingly cynical and witty, and tells Dorian that the only life worth living is one dedicated entirely to pleasure. After Wotton convinces Dorian that youth and beauty will bring him everything he desires, Dorian openly wishes that his portrait could age in his place, and that he could keep his youthful good looks forever. He makes this statement in the presence of a certain Egyptian statue, which supposedly has the power to grant wishes. When the portrait of Dorian is complete, Lord Henry hails it as a masterpiece and is surprised when Basil announces he will never exhibit it because he feels he put "too much of himself" into it. Basil is also concerned about Lord Henry's influence on the impressionable Dorian, who Basil considers a dear friend and an artistic muse. Basil gives the painting to Dorian, who proudly hangs it in his opulent home.

    One fateful night, Dorian visits a lower-class tavern, The Two Turtles, where he is given a prime seat for the night's entertainment. He is instantly charmed by the tavern owners' daughter, Sibyl Vane (Angela Lansbury), who performs a sweet singing routine during the lineup. Dorian is invited backstage after the show to meet Sibyl, and plays the piano for her in the empty tavern. Sibyl is flattered by the attention of such a handsome gentleman, and her mother (Lydia Bilbrook) encourages the relationship because of Dorian's wealth, but Sibyl's brother James (Richard Fraser) is suspicious. James tells his enamored sister in private that if this young man, whom Sibyl nicknamed "Sir Tristan" after a virtuous knight in Arthurian mythology, ever harms her, he will kill him. James is then deployed to Australia on a sailing mission.

    Dorian excitedly tells Basil and Lord Henry that he is engaged to the beautiful Sibyl Vane, and invites them to come with him to the tavern to hear her sing. Despite having heard Lord Henry's disdainful views on marriage, Dorian is so genuinely happy that Lord Henry's words no longer influence him. Basil sees this as a positive development, and after seeing Sibyl perform and making her acquaintance, encourages the engagement for the sake of Dorian's moral purity. Lord Henry, on the other hand, cannot resist exploiting his innate ability to influence his friends, and suggests that Dorian test Sibyl's worth with an "experiment." Dorian invites Sibyl to his house that night and, when she prepares to go home, asks her to stay. Torn between love and honor, Sibyl nearly leaves, but cannot resist Dorian's charm. This meant that she had failed Lord Henry's test, and Dorian sends her an incredibly hurtful letter, accusing her of "killing his love," and that she can have no part in his life henceforth. He sends her a sum of money for compensation, but Sibyl is emotionally destroyed.

    When Dorian returns home after abandoning Sibyl, he notices a slight change in the portrait Basil had painted of him. The mouth looks somehow crueler, and a cold unkindness is present in the face that had not been there before. When he wakes the next morning, the change is still visible. He feels immense guilt over how badly he had treated Sibyl, and hastily composes an apology letter in an attempt to redeem himself. Before he can deliver it, Lord Henry arrives with the news that Sibyl Vane had killed herself the night before. Dorian is initially devastated, but Lord Henry convinces him to not blame himself for the tragedy and invites him to the opera. Abandoning his grief, Dorian falls deeper into Lord Henry's teachings of "new hedonism", and goes to the opera with him that very night. Basil is surprised and worried when he witnesses Dorian's uncaring behavior in regard to Sibyl's death, and Dorian plans to dedicate his life solely to his own pleasure. Because the change in the portrait still disturbed him, Dorian has it covered with a screen and locked in his old school room at the top of the house, to which he keeps the only key.

    Eighteen years later, Dorian is nearing his fortieth birthday, but has not visibly changed since age twenty-two. His friends and neighbors are awestruck at his youthful appearance, but unsavory rumors constantly circulate about his strange behavior and acquaintances. Having taken Lord Henry's ideas to heart, Dorian's life consists largely of scandals with women, opium dens, and influencing other wealthy young men to adopt his hedonistic way of living. Over time, many of his friends lost their good standing in society, and women were shamed to be in his company. Dorian meets Basil again, who is preparing to catch a train to Paris, and invites him to his house. Basil expresses his concern about Dorian's behavior, and admits that in order to truly know what kind of man Dorian is, he would have to see his soul itself. Dorian grimly leads Basil up to the old school room to look upon his handiwork for the first time in eighteen years. Dorian removes the coverings from the hidden portrait, and Basil is horrified to see that the man in the painting has warped into a hideous, demon-like creature to reflect Dorian's multitude of sins. Basil begs Dorian to repent and change his ways, but Dorian feels a surge of anger toward Basil, blaming him for his miserable life because the painting was his own work. Dorian stabs Basil to death and locks his body in the school room with the horrible painting, in which blood has appeared on the hands of the twisted painted Dorian.

    The next morning, Dorian summons a former friend, Allen Campbell (Douglas Walton), whose reputation had since been ruined by his associations with Dorian. Campbell is a scientist specializing in anatomy and chemistry, and Dorian blackmails the highly reluctant man into disposing of Basil's body. The nature of the blackmailing subject is not revealed, but Campbell agrees to disintegrate Basil's body, and departs afterward looking shaken and disturbed.

    Basil's disappearance is talked about in London society for some time, but Dorian is never suspected. Among the few who have remained his loyal friends are Lord Henry and Gladys (Donna Reed), Basil's niece, who was a little girl when the portrait was painted. Dorian enters a romance with Gladys, though he is apprehensive about the effect he appears to have on the lives of those he becomes close to. He visits a seedy inn one evening and finds a former friend, Adrian Singleton (Morton Lowry), a wealthy young man who had been ruined by following Dorian's influence. Adrian is now a disheveled opium addict, but he knows of Dorian's sordid past and mockingly addresses him as "Sir Tristan" as Dorian departs the inn. The nickname is overheard by James Vane, Sibyl's brother, who happened to be at the inn and had spent eighteen years being hell-bent on avenging his sister. Though he did not know her cruel suitor's name and had never seen his face, the name "Sir Tristan" is enough to motivate him to follow Dorian outside and threaten him. Dorian calmly denies ever knowing a Sibyl Vane, and asserts that he is too young to have had anything to do with a death that occurred eighteen years before. James Vane admits that this man looks too young to be the suspect, and releases him. Adrian Singleton, with both amusement and resentment, explains to James that Dorian Gray was the man he sought, and that he had not looked a day older than twenty-two for the past eighteen years. Enraged, James Vane begins to track down Dorian Gray.

    A few days later, Dorian attends a hunting party with several society friends. The sport is interrupted when a man, assumed to be a beater, is shot to death by accident after hiding in the bushes unseen. It is revealed to Dorian later that the dead man was not a beater, but James Vane, having followed Dorian in revenge and lost his own life in the process. Dorian feels even more guilty and cursed, but wishes to make one final stab at having a good and worthwhile life. He soon proposes marriage to Gladys, who happily accepts, much to the displeasure of her friend David Stone (Peter Lawford), who is one of the many who are suspicious of Dorian.

    Despite his happiness about his upcoming marriage to Gladys, Dorian is weighted down by the deaths of Sibyl, Basil, and James, as well as the ruin of Adrian Singleton and others like him. The last straw is the news that Allen Campbell, whom Dorian ruined and then blackmailed into disposing of Basil's body, had killed himself in misery. Dorian realizes that the one noble thing he can possibly do is to spare Gladys from the certain misfortune he will bring her.

    At long last, Dorian ventures up to the school room to face the painting that is the embodiment of his corrupted soul. Using the same knife with which he had murdered Basil Hallward, he stabs his painted figure through the heart. Dorian himself feels the effect of the knife, and collapses, praying for his salvation. Roused by his screams, his houseguests, including Gladys, David, and Lord Henry, rush upstairs and find Dorian Gray's dead body on the school room floor, now in the form of the hideous creature from the painting. The painting itself, with the knife still protruding from it, has reverted to its original image of the handsome, innocent youth than Dorian once was. Lord Henry, stricken, sees the horrible results of his own influence and gazes at Dorian's corpse in shocked remorse.

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