Thursday, August 4, 2011

DVD Review: THE SECRET OF DORIAN GRAY (1970)

THE SECRET OF DORIAN GRAY (1970)
[Il Dio Chiamato Dorian]

LABEL: RaroVideo USA
REGION CODE: 1 NTSC
RATING:Unrated
DURATION: 101 mins
VIDEO: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.66:1)
AUDIO: Italian, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono

DIRECTOR: Massimo Dallamano
CAST: Helmut Berger, Richard Todd, Herbert Lom, Maria Rohm, Marie Lijedahl, Margaret Lee



THE SECRET LIFE OF DORIAN GRAY is a 70's Euro-Cult film from Massimo Dallamano, the director of WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO SOLANGE? (1972), a film thats long been on my to-see list but sadly haven't gotten around to, yet. The film is based on Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel The Portrait of Dorian Gray, a novel I've always meant to get to.... are you sensing a pattern here?

The film opens in 1960's London as the title character Dorian Gray washes blood from his hands, having just murdered someone who lies dead in another room. Afterwards he stares into the flames of a fireplace contemplating the events that have lead him to this point as we are transported back in time to what I believe is the year 1953, based on a newspaper headline reading 'Is Stalin Dead?'.

Dorian Gray (Helmut Berger, THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINI) is a swinging Londoner at a drag cabaret performance with his friends. Afterwards he ventures out on his own and wanders into a theatre where he meets the aspiring stage actress Sybil Vane (Marie Lijedahl, EUGENIE... THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION). The chance encounter blossoms into whirlwind romance. Sybil's a positive influence on the vain, self-obsessed Dorian, keeping him centered and discouraging his lesser qualities. All is going well for the young couple until Basil (Richard Rohm, ASYLUM), a painter friend, offers to paint Dorian's portrait. After seeing the striking image Dorian is so enamoured with the portrait of himself that he buys it. He ponders aloud why should it be that he will age while the painting stays young forever, he wishes it were the other way around and offers his soul to make it so. These words uttered in a moment of supreme vainess set in motion a series of events that lead Dorian down a dark path of eternal youth, debauchery, regret and damnation.
 
Dorian befriends a wealthy socialite named Henry (Herbert Lom, MARK OF THE DEVIL) and his sister Gwendolyn (Margaret Lee, THE BLOODY JUDGE) and invites them to attend a theatre production starring Sybil but he becomes utterly embarrassed by her atrocious performance, it is explained that her passion for acting has waned as her love for Dorian has grown. Appalled and embarrassed Dorian abruptly ends the relationship. Sybil, out of her mind with grief, is struck dead by a car almost immediately afterwards. Unaware of the fatality Dorian spends a night of passion with the seductive Gwendolyn. The next morning, feeling remorseful over the break-up, he intends to reconcile with the starlet only to discover she's dead.


Soon after Dorian comes to realizes that his soul surrendering wish for eternal youth has come to fruition. Seeing the portrait age with each sinful act he commits unsettles the self-centered young man, so distressed by the supernatural aging of the portrait that he keeps it hidden away in the attic where it continues to age through the years becoming a ghastly caricature of the once gorgeous young man. Dorian, left to his own libidinous devices without Sybil, throws himself headlong into a melee of meaningless promiscuous sexual excess, there is of course the pre-requisite 70's lesbian sex scene, and pretty overt hints of a his bisexual nature. The snake in the garden of eternal youth, Henry, caresses Dorian in the shower and he soon after finds himself cruising bath houses for attractive young men. While the film is seeping with sexuality and a never ending parade of nubile flesh it never seems to get too sleazy for it's own good. I'm sure this was a scandalous theatrical experience 40 years ago but it seems somewhat tame by current standards, if still slightly risque.

The final moments of the film feature Dorian's ever youthful appearance gaining notice as he is ever-more-so haunted by what his cursed youth has wrought. He's overcome by remembrances of his betrayals, debauchery and the loss of his one true love, Sybil. It all come to a head as he faces his portrait, once a monument to his beauty, now a reflection of his grotesque inner-self.


The film has a lot going for it, foremost Helmut Berger who is cast to perfection as the impossibly attractive Dorian Gray. Great performances from everyone, it's a great supporting cast with nary a bad apple in the bunch. There's gorgeous cinematography with fluid camera movements courtesy of Otella Spilla (THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS) which I would assume were enhanced by the experiences of director Dallamano, a former DP, who lensed both A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE for Sergio Leone. The icing on the cake is a sweet fuzzed-out, psychedelic guitar score by Giuseppe De Luca as well as some sweeping, tender love themes, great stuff. Complaints are pretty few and far between, the one nagging at me the most was the passage of time, I just didn't feel it and I was confused to some degree by how much time was supposed to have transpired. It's not ruinous to the film, just something that struck me, more striking are those outlandish 70's fashion, whoa. Not having read the novel the film seemed to follow what I know of Oscar Wilde's source material but with a stylish Euro-cult update, the 60's/70's sex vibe suits the story perfectly.


DVD: Never before available in the US the film gets a very sweet release from RaroVideo that includes a new HD digital transfer sourced from the original negative and it looks pretty great. The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) with rich colors, good black levels and a crisp image. It's a sharp presentation with precious few instances of print damage and a fine layer of film grain. The RaroVideo DVD contains the international cut of the film as well as footage from the US cut making this the longest cut of the film available.

Audio options include Italian and English language Dolby Digital Mono 2.0 with optional English subtitles featuring a new and improved translation. The English audio sounds quite good, dialogue is well balanced and the score sounds awesome. It's lacking any noticeable crackle or hiss, good stuff.The Italian audio doesn't fare so well, apparently RaroVideo had trouble locating a valid Italian soundtrack and resorted to using a low-quality master and the results are really quite poor with an abundance of background noise and distortions throughout. 

Special features include an illustrated 4pg. booklet with writings on the film and the DVD transfer plus a filmography. The sole non-text feature is a video interview with assistant director Maurizio Tanfani (30:59) presented in Italian with English subtitles. It's a fun listen as Tanfani, who worked with Leon Klimovsky (VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES), and Bruno Mattei (ZOMBIE 3), speaks of Franco Nero (DJANGO) being considered to play the role of Dorian Gray and actor Herbert Lom's extensive time in the make-up chair to cover a nose defect of some sort. Tanfani also discusses making spaghetti westerns and sword n' sandals films with various Italian directors, the tragic life of Anna Maria Pierangeli (IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH), a disgraced former MGM studio actress with a fatal pill and alcohol addiction, and working with star Helmut Berger, whom he speaks of quite fondly though probably not as fondly as the male costume designer he recalls working on set whom would stuff his pockets with Berger's dirty underwear after each costume change, fun stuff and a nice career retrospective.


As with LIVE LIKE A COP DIE LIKE A MAN RaroVideo have given THE SECRET OF DORIAN GRAY a fantastic release with a fine transfer and while the supplemental are not numerous the interview with Tanfani is quite interesting and will surely will please any fan of Euro-cult cinema.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

- Interview with the assistant director Maurizio Tanfani (30:51) 4:3
- A fully illustrated booklet containing critical analysis.
- New Digital Transfer from Original 35mm Negative Print.
- Digitally Restored and Remastered.
- New and Improved English subtitle translation.


VERDICT: Yet another awesome 70's Euro-cult goodie given a sweet restored presentation from RaroVideo. A high recommend to lovers of Euro-cult and Italian cinema.

SCREEN GRABS 


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