Appellate Judge Tom Becker believes that you live fast, die young, and leave a hideous-looking portrait in the attic.
You mustn't waste your youth, Dorian…it's the most precious thing you have.
Let's start out with some good news. When Raro/E1 released this title in April, it came with a nasty authoring problem: about two-thirds through, the picture pixelated and stayed like that to the end.
Eurosleaze fan that I am, I'd been looking forward to this disc, but when I read the disappointing news from Amazon users, I naturally held off buying it. A corrected version was promised for early summer.
Well, the re-release date came and went, but there was no word of a corrected disc. Then DVD Verdict got a review copy. Unfortunately, it turned out that the pixel problem was still there.
But here's the good news: We contacted Raro, they sent over a new copy, and it's clean. So, fans of this film should be aware that the fixed disc is out there.
Facts of the Case
Dorian Gray (Helmut Berger, Ludwig) is a privileged and very attractive young man living in London. Inspired by his youthful good looks and general air of innocence, painter Basil Hallward (Richard Todd, The Longest Day) has Dorian sit for a portrait. So beautiful is the painting that Dorian states that he would sell his soul if he could always look like that and the portrait could age instead.
Through Basil, Dorian meets the wealthy and decadent Harry Wotton (Herbert Lom, A Shot in the Dark). Wotton takes Dorian under his wing, and soon the young man is the debauched toast of the depraved elite. Everybody wants a piece of him—literally—and Dorian is all too happy to oblige any and all with sexual favors.
As time goes by, Dorian's moral compass crumbles, but somehow, he retains his youthful beauty. His portrait, on the other hand, starts to look like hell—literally.
There have been several film adaptations of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, but Massimo Dallamano's 1970 The Secret of Dorian Gray was the first to go full-on exploitation lurid. While the American version starring George Sanders, Hurd Hatfield, and Angela Lansbury is generally considered the best, since it was produced in 1945, it was a bit constrained as far as its depictions of Dorian's excesses.
European films were always more frank about sexuality than their American counterparts, but by the late '60s, U.S. films had started to catch up; thus, Dallamano could pepper his film with copious nudity and assorted couplings and still peddle his film on the international market.
Helmut Berger, star of art house (Conversation Piece) and sleaze house (Salon Kitty), and the occasional hybrid (The Damned), was the perfect choice to play Dorian. Berger had angelic looks, emotional and sexual intensity, and an allure that made him seem both corrupting and corruptible, whether he was playing innocents (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis) or psychopaths (Beast with a Gun).
Berger's Dorian doesn't just enjoy a decadent lifestyle; he becomes the king (or maybe prince) of decadence, and thanks to his never-changing good looks, the most sexually desired person in the world. Seriously. No conquest is outside Dorian's grasp, and no promiscuity too extreme (all promiscuities being relative, of course). In one rather arbitrary scene, he even inspires otherwise heterosexual women to magically become lesbians—a bit of business that Dallamano uses to segue into Dorian's own homosexual dabblings.
In fact, Dorian even ends up being "an adult entertainment star," something that shocks his contemporaries not because they expected anything better, but because he's around 50 and still looking 25 when he takes the soft-core plunge.
Unfortunately, after decades at the rodeo, and with no new worlds to conquer, Dorian finds his life of pleasure and perversion to be a bore.
And, unfortunately, he's right.
While Dallamano—who was primarily a cinematographer, but also directed a few exploitation and giallo films, including What Have You Done to Solange? and A Black Veil for Lisa—offers up lots of thematics (usually voiced by Lom's Wotton), the focus here is all-out sexploitation. And just as Dorian becomes jaded by his own excesses, so does the audience. There's little drama or suspense—once Dorian narrows his eyes at an attractive person, you know they're going to be coupling. The soft-core eroticism is pretty well done, though at times it becomes comical, and it ceases to be shocking pretty early on.
Dallamano also doesn't seem to have any sense of the whole passage of time thing, which is so crucial to the story. The world around Dorian doesn't really change much in the 20 or 30 years (depending on whether you're watching the English or Italian version) that the story takes place. Fashions don't change, attitudes don't change, society doesn't change, technology doesn't change—the only way we really know time has passed is that people comment on how Dorian doesn't change, and some of the other actors have their hair grayed. It's as though London in the late '60s is some sort of timeless universe that exists only for Dorian's hedonistic pleasure.
The whole thing ends up being pretty silly and sleazy, and Dorian, as time goes on, turns out to be something of a bumbling, self-centered bore, more like a hypersexed Ted Baxter than the most desirable man in the universe. His decaying inner self is noted through the terrible changes to his portrait, as well as his wardrobe; he starts out with simple jeans and suits, moves on to velvet fopwear, and ends up in outfits that look like he's been raiding The Riddler's closet.
If nothing else, The Secret of Dorian Gray is worth seeing for curiosity sake; this is not a film that's been widely seen or available, at least in this form, on home video. If you're a Eurosleaze fan, this is an essential title. Berger is always worth catching, and the film has that over-the-top sleazy, can't-look-away thing that hallmarked late-'60s/early-'70s high-end Eurosmut.
The disc looks great, the remastered 1.66 anamorphic transfer appearing quite clean with solid colors and good contrast. Audio's not so hot, with both the English and Italian mono tracks coming off as a bit weak and lacking depth. The main supplement is an interview with assistant director Mauizio Tanfani, which is quite interesting, and there's also a text essay insert about the film. Also, while the package lists the film as running 93 minutes—the length of the U.S. cut—it actually runs 101 minutes, the international cut, and includes longer sex scenes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Not about the film, but Raro/E1: As this review is going in, Amazon is still not carrying this film; they discontinued it when the problems turned up with the first batch run. Raro also sent us a bad disc initially, but sent a new one days later when asked, which means the corrected version is available. Why haven't they updated their website with this news or re-released it to Amazon? I don't know if they've shipped the corrected version to stores, and I don't see any difference between the packages, no UPC code or anything like that, to tell the clean version from the defective one.
Outlandish and smutty, The Secret of Dorian Gray is a fine example of late '60s art/porn Eurotrash. Throw in a few "name" actors, throw off a few clothes, and—WHAM! BAM!—insta-sleaze classic. The Raro/E1 disc is a great presentation—if you get the right one.
Actually, this one's an exceedingly guilty pleasure.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Raro Video
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