Editor’s Notes: The Picture of Dorian Gray, Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 9, & Lawman: The Complete Second Season are available now on their respective formats .
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray (Warner Archive) is the 1945 adaptation of the 1891 Oscar Wilde novel starring Hurd Hatfield, George Sanders, Donna Reed, and Angela Lansbury. As the years pass, Gray (Hatfield) never ages, but a portrait of him he keeps hidden reflects not only age but the horrifying effects of Gray’s life of hedonism and evil. George Sanders plays the Machiavellian Lord Henry Wotton, who leads Gray into a life of perdition and periodically issues forth sardonic comments about life and the pleasures it offers. Twenty-year-old Angela Lansbury portrays Sibyl Vane, a music hall singer who falls under the spell of Gray’s charm.
The film, shot at M-G-M during its fascination with reverent literary adaptations, is beautifully filmed by cinematographer Harry Stradling and the film’s overall production design is lush and detailed. However, the film never quite captures the horrific nature of Gray’s moral deterioration. Hatfield is a good looking actor and fills the casting prescription on that note, but seems an attractive showpiece in a movie whose stylish production overshadows his performance. A variation of the “Faust” tale, The Picture of Dorian Gray is set in 19th-century drawing rooms and stately homes rather than in dark streets or remote laboratories like the Universal horror pictures of the 1930s. Because Gray is not cinema’s typical “monster,” the film comes off as horror-lite . Sanders easily steals every scene he’s in and believably suggests a man who not only thrives on flaunting society’s taboos, but is excited to lead a younger man into depravity.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray release include commentary by Angela Lansbury, the Oscar-winning short Stairway to Light, and the Oscar-winning cartoon Quiet Please!
Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 9
Forbidden Hollywood, Volume 9 (Warner Archive) is a collection of five movies, four made before and one made after Hollywood’s restrictive Production Code took widespread effect. The Production Code was a set of moral guidelines that was applied to most American films released by major studios from 1930 to 1968. It was strictly enforced beginning in 1934. From 1934 to 1954, the Code was closely identified with Joseph Breen, the administrator appointed by Will Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. By the late 1950s, the influence of television, foreign films, adventurous directors pushing the envelope, and free-speech decisions from the courts began to weaken the Code.
The films in this collection represent Hollywood’s last efforts for years to come in dealing with touchy subject matter. Joan Blondell stars as a free-wheeling chorus girl who hooks up with the ultimate hick (Eric Linden) in Melvyn LeRoy’s Big City Blues (1932), featuring a young Humphrey Bogart. Richard Dix stars as a convict working the road crew for a corrupt warden in Rowland Brown’s Hell’s Highway (1932). Bette Davis utters the immortal line “I’d love to kiss you but I just washed my hair” to Richard Barthelmess in Michael Curtiz’s The Cabin in the Cotton (1932). Myrna Loy stars as a writer with extramarital designs in When Ladies Meet (1933). Pat O’Brien and Ann Dvorak star in the tale of a Second Avenue auctioneer who gets played by a society grifter in Robert Florey’s I Sell Anything (1934).
There are no bonus features on this 4-disc DVD set.
Lawman: The Complete Second Season
Lawman: The Complete Second Season (Warner Archive) is a 5-disc set containing all 39 episodes of the show’s 1959-1960 season. Marshal Dan Troop (John Russell) and Deputy Johnny McKay (Peter Brown) continue their quest to bring law and order to Laramie, Wyoming in 1879 and the 1880s, as Laramie’s population expands in some interesting ways.
First to call is the charming Miss Lily (Peggie Castle), who’s not exactly the bad apple Marshal Dan thinks. Winning the lawmen over, Lily sets up shop as the local operator of the Birdcage Saloon and becomes a loyal ally. Also settling in for a spell in the Western’s second season are barkeep Timmo McQueen (Clancy Cooper) and ever gossipy Hotel Laramie clerk Jack Stiles (Doodles Weaver).
Troop and McKay hold their ground against marauders, hate mongers and murderers, thanks to the badge and the gun, as some notable folks come their way — some as foe and some as friend. The guest stars this season include Diane McBain, Troy Donohue, Slim Pickens, Joel Grey, Jack Elam, DeForrest Kelley, James Coburn, and Lee Van Cleef.
In Season Two, Johnny becomes more involved in the action and carries some episodes by himself. The scripts have a lighter tone than in Season One and include more comedy and romance.
Lawman was among the numerous Warner Brothers Westerns on the air at the time. The adult-oriented TV Western premiered with Gunsmoke in 1955. The peak year for Westerns on TV was 1959, with 26 such shows airing in prime time, among them Bonanza, Laramie, Have Gun Will Travel, Wagon Train, and Maverick. In one week in March, 1959, eight of the top ten shows were Westerns.