The Secret of Dorian Gray

 

Il Dio Chiamato Dorian

[aka: The Secret of Dorian Gray]

[aka: Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray]

Screenplay by Marcello Coscia, Massimo Dallamano

Adapted from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Cinematography: Otello Spila

Edited by Leo Jahn and Nicholas Wentworth

Music by Peppino De Luca and Carlos Pes

Produced by: Moris Ergas

Directed by Massimo Dallamano

1970

 

Cast:

Helmut Berger

Richard Todd

Herbert Lom

Marie Liljedahl

Maria Rohm

Isa Miranda

Stewart Black

 

Production:

Theatrical: Sargon Film, Terra-Filmkunst

Video: Raro Video USA

 

Video:

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1

Codec: MPEG-2

Bit Rate: Moderate-High (7.5~8 Mbps)

Runtime: 101 minutes

Chapters: 24

Region: 0 / NTSC

 

Audio

Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono

English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono

 

Subtitles: Optional English

 

Extras:
• Interview with the assistant director Maurizio Tanfani (30.50)
• A 4-page booklet with essay about the film and the transfer
• New Digital Transfer from Original 35mm Negative

 

Presentation:

DVD clamshell case: DVD x 1

Release Date: April 17, 2011


 

Introduction [Raro Video USA]:

Never before released on DVD in the U.S., The Secret of Dorian Gray [Il Dio Chiamato Dorian] is a seventies classic Italian film restored to its original splendor. In London, a wealthy, god-like, young man, Dorian Gray, loves Sybil, an aspiring actress; thanks to her, he’s momentarily less self-centered. He’s also sitting, scantily clad, for a portrait painted by his ascot-wearing friend, Basil. When it’s done, Dorian complains he’ll grow old while it stays unchanged- the classic plight of the vain. On the same night, as if he has sold his soul to the devil, exchanging vanity for morality, he ends it with Sybil, and then accepts the seductive offer of a party’s hostess to sleep with her. The next day, the painting looks slightly older. In horror and fascination, Dorian hides it away and continues a life of degradation. Over time, as the portrait becomes hideous, he’s unchanged by his ever-increasing libidinal life; finally, he and Basil face the painting. The exceptionally groovy score by Giuseppe De Luca enhances the seventies milieu.


       

 

The Movie: 5

There have been a number of film and television adaptations (20 according to the IMDB) of Oscar Wilde’s celebrated novel, none that I’ve seen entirely successful, though the 1961 television play with Jeremy Brett wasn’t at all bad. The 1945 film had the advantage of Vincent Price, but Hurd Hatfield wasn’t nearly beautiful or vane enough, nor did it portray Dorian’s excesses with sufficient hellishness.  The difficulty, in my opinion, lies with the original in the character of Sybil Vane, whose suicide sets the plot in motion.

 

The story, adhered to in spirit in the various incarnations that I am acquainted with, concerned one Dorian Gray, a beautiful and ambitious young man (here played by the perfect physical specimen Helmut Berger); Basil Hallward, Dorian’s mentor in all things libertine (Richard Todd); and Henry Wotton, the artist whose portrait of Dorian so mesmerizes him that he trades his soul for immortal beauty (Herbert Lom.)  Dorian is quite serious about his wish to have immortal beauty while only his picture ages, but little does he suspect that it could be so, nor, to his horror, that the ways in which the picture would change over the years reflects his fall into evil.


       

 

The idea for the story is brilliant, is it not!  Besides the obvious plot device there is the metaphysical question of how our bad behavior is rendered by us invisibly.  The study of psychology has a great deal to say on the subject.  The problem with the plot – in the book as with the adaptations as I see it, is that Wilde would have us believe that Sybil’s suicide is Dorian’s fault for having dismissed her so thoughtlessly, even roughly.  But is it? 


Does Wilde reveal his true feelings about his character in his name for her: Sybil Vane.  Doesn’t exactly suggest innocence does it?  Dorian brings his friends to see a performance of Romeo & Juliet to show off his Sybil. She humiliates Dorian by deliberately giving a bad performance in front of Dorian’s friends.  These two make a perfect couple: entirely self-involved and careless about their own lives.

 

Sybil’s reasoning for her behavior is slippery to say the least, and it is here that the various adaptations differ and try to make sense out of the insensible.  I have to say that Dallamano’s understanding of Sybil comes as close to making her more credible and appealing and less hysterical (my apologies to women everywhere) as any I’ve seen, yet it still doesn’t make her suicide Dorian’s responsibility.


       

 

More to the point, Sybil’s behavior during the play and subsequent suicide and Dorian’s acceptance of guilt is all so very nineteenth century, and it is here that placing the events in our time makes that narrative less credible, though placing the action in mid-20th century does provide an excuse for Dorian’s dabbling in “adult entertainment” smut. Not that in our more “enlightened” present we aren’t susceptible to inappropriate guilt, especially as concerns the behavior of others, but that connecting this with the Grand-Guignol aspects of the novel doesn’t quite work in a modern setting – though it might have had a chance if it weren’t for the insipid music score that accompanies so much of the early part of the film.

 

Which brings us to the soft porn aspects of this movie, which is where this movie is headed, after all, and about which I can only say that Miss Liljedahl (who had a brief, if well received career in soft porn at this time) and Mr Berger (a favorite of the director Luchino Visconti) make a lovely couple even when glimpsed in partial nudity through the deliberately posed leaves of a tree.


       

 

Image: 7/6

Raro Video presents Il Dio Chiamato Dorian in its presumed aspect ratio of 1.66:1.  Like Raro Video’s transfer of other 1970s color films, such as the Fernando di Leo crime movies and Il Dio Chiamato Dorian is without complaint.  The film elements are in good shape, evidencing scant damage.  Blacks are crushed more than is desirable, but I think this is the result of the photographer’s lighting rather than the transfer.  There is very little noise; soft focus shots look as they should. Edge enhancement is at a minimum; contrast is well handled, and color is pleasing and likely looks as it might have on initial screening. Raro’s edition melds footage from the U.S. cut with the complete international edition.


       

 

Audio & Music: 5/2

Raro offers two audio tracks: Italian and English, the latter designated as a “dub.”  But the truth is that both are dubs in the sense that some of the important roles are dubbed in either case.  Even though the film is directed by an Italian, the Italian track is by far the more noxious.  In fact, I found the English “dub” to be entirely satisfying, not least because Lom and Todd, at least were recognizable as themselves.  It is also clearer, better balanced and with less distortion.

 

That said, the dialogue still had some of that pinched quality we associate with Italian films of the 1950s through the 1970s. Less, than the worst case examples, to be sure, but still in evidence.  Richard Todd sounds like someone is strangling his testicles.  The subtitles serve more as a translation from the Italian than as a written version of the English.  Most of them time, they had entirely different texts.

 

The music, credited to Peppino De Luca and Carlos Pes, alternates rip-offs of Francis Lai (A Man and a Woman, Love Story, Vivre pour Vivre) - staggeringly inappropriate for what is essentially a horror movie but we assume Dallamano felt it ideal for a soft porn flic - with attempts to add touches of suspense that stick out like gangrenous body parts.


       

 

Extras: 5

The half-hour interview is the sole bonus feature on the disc. Maurizio Tanfani, while not associated with the Dallamano film directly, is nonetheless a man of that time who has worked in cinema all his life.  His comments are interesting and entertaining about the business, Il Dio Chiamato Dorian, and his working with Helmut Berger among other luminaries. By the way, this segment is an actual interview in which we can hear (but not see) the interviewers questions from behind the camera, many of which are translated. The 4:3 presentation is clear and unfussy with excellent subtitles.  The four-page booklet contains a filmography of the director ( DVD) and a two-page anonymous essay about the film and this transfer.


       

 

Recommendation: 6

Berger and Liljedahl are both lovely to look at, though Liljedahl’s character dies off before the halfway mark.  Berger’s decent into hell is nicely done, though I wish his line readings (or whoever did the dub) were more compelling.  The whole soft porn overlay (or underlay) would have been better left on the cutting room floor.  That said, and except that Dallamano is a bit too ignorant of the passing of time, Dallamano‘s understanding of the Wilde story has some merit.  When all is said and done, however, the whole affair is little more than a good example of 1970s Eurotrash – and Raro USA gives us by far the best presentation available on home video.


       



Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

November 14, 2011



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