Based on Oscar Wilde's novel, a young man gets his wish for youthful pleasures but finds his secret sins revealed in a portrait he hides.
In London in 1886 Henry Wotton (George Sanders) sees Basil Hallward (Lowell Gilmore) painting a portrait of Dorian. Basil says he will not exhibit it but give it to Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield). Henry tells Dorian not to go into philanthropy but enjoy his youth. Dorian sees the portrait and wishes it would age, not him; he would give his soul for that. In a poor district Dorian sees Sybil Vane (Angela Lansbury) sing "Yellow Bird." He goes back and pays her to sing, and he plays a Chopin prelude on piano. He kisses her and leaves. Sybil tells her brother Jim (Richard Fraser) that Dorian has no evil in him. At a luncheon Henry expounds his amoral philosophy, and Dorian says he is engaged. Dorian takes Henry and Basil to see Sybil. Henry suggests that Dorian test her virtue, and Dorian invites her to see his portrait, asking her to stay. She starts to leave but comes back. Dorian writes a letter rejecting her and saying he will live only for pleasure. Dorian feels bad and thinks the portrait has changed a little. He plans to live purely and writes a letter to Sybil. Henry comes in, and Dorian says he is going to marry Sybil; but Henry says that she is dead from taking poison. Henry says Dorian is fortunate and invites him to the opera. Basil calls on Dorian, who says the emotion passed. Basil gives him a book on Buddha and a sketch of Sybil, but Dorian forbids him to look at the portrait. Dorian has servants put the portrait in his childhood room and fires the servants.
Years later Dorian still looks young, but people suspect him. He sees sins and age in the portrait. Dorian finds Basil's niece Gladys (Donna Reed) singing. She is going with David (Peter Lawford) but plans to ask Dorian to marry her. Dorian says it would be wicked for him to marry her. Dorian is 38, and Basil tells Dorian of his bad reputation and the rumors. Basil wants to see Dorian's soul, and Dorian lets him see the portrait that is corrupted. Basil suggests that Dorian pray. Dorian fears that Basil will tell Gladys and kills him with a knife. Dorian pretends to be coming home and writes a letter to Allen Campbell (Douglas Walton). When he comes over, Dorian asks Allen to destroy the evidence of Basil and admits he murdered him. Allen refuses, but Dorian says he will send a letter. Because of a woman, Allen agrees. Dorian dines with Henry and asks Gladys to marry him; she accepts. She and Dorian ask Robert Bentley (Miles Mander) at Scotland Yard what happened to Basil. Robert says that Allen Campbell killed himself. Dorian goes to hear an outdoor preacher. Jim hears the piano prelude and says he is looking for a man. Dorian comes in, and Jim goes after him. On a train Henry asks Dorian the secret of his youth. Dorian sees a hunter kill a man by mistake, and he sees the body is Jim. Dorian kisses Gladys goodbye. David tells Gladys and Henry about Dorian's locked room with a portrait of a bloody man signed by Basil. Gladys gets a letter from Dorian, saying he will never see her again. Dorian sees hope in the portrait and stabs it, wounding himself; he prays and dies. Henry, Gladys, and David find the portrait of young Dorian, and the dead Dorian is older.
Wilde's acerbic wit sparkles in this moral tale that
explores the emptiness of pursuing pleasure without moral considerations.
The portrait symbolizes Dorian's inner life that is revealed by
art. Henry does not believe in influencing others because it interferes
with independence; but ironically he is a terrible influence on
Dorian. In our time some people use cosmetic surgery to maintain
their youth, but do they see their inner portraits?