The Archivist #132: Ghosts of Oscars Past [THE SANDPIPER & THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY]

Prepping for the Oscars with a look back at some past winners from Warner Archive.

The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and factory pressed Blu-ray discs. Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!

The Oscars are (thankfully) almost here. By this time next month, the winners will have been crowned and cinephiles will either still be debating which of the past year’s nominees got the shaft, or who will be in the crop of next year’s contenders. But for now, it’s a time to celebrate the nominees of today and honor the winners who came before them. While more bets and predictions are still coming in, we here at The Archivist have decided to take a look back for a two-part series spotlighting a quartet of previous Oscar-winning films which managed to take home the gold and go on to enjoy acclaim from all kinds of film lovers.

In this edition, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of The Picture of Dorian Gray as well as the 55th anniversary for The Sandpiper and their Oscar wins for Best Cinematography and Best Original Song, respectively.

The Sandpiper

Set in the heart of gorgeous Big Sur, The Sandpiper tells the story of Dr. Reverend Edward Hewitt (Richard Burton), the married priest who is also the head of an Episcopalian school. When troubles regarding one of his students escalates, Edward calls for a meeting with the boy’s mother, Laura Reynolds (Elizabeth Taylor), a local free-spirited artist. Immediately taken with her, Edward soon starts to develop feelings for Laura which eventually turn into a tempestuous affair, despite his devotion to Claire, his wife of long years (Eva Marie Saint.)

Made at the height of the public’s fascination with the Taylor/Burton affair, The Sandpiper doesn’t disappoint in being totally Liz and Dick on display whenever it can. Even now there’s a certain giddiness to be had at seeing the sparks fly between the two lovestruck characters and imagining a similar version playing out in real life. The Sandpiper also happens to be a well-made and involving character drama that not only pushed the social boundaries of mid-60’s censors (Taylor’s character is a proud unwed mother), but also offered up a story about two people at opposite ends of the spectrum who found themselves both enamored and conflicted with one another as well as the romance they want but cannot wholly have. The triangle at the heart of The Sandpiper does right by all involved in the way it explores each person’s desires and frustrations, including Claire’s. Although it’s considered far from his best film, Vincente Minnelli directs the trio of stars with the kind of passion and curiosity that was his trademark and the result is a film that’s sumptuous on both a visual and emotional level.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray remains one of the ultimate comments on 18th century British aristocracy. When the young and handsome Dorian Gray (Hurd Hatfield) has his picture painted by the well-respected Basil Hallward (Lowell Gilmore), it ushers him into the upper echelons of London society where he is chaperoned and guided by the shallow Lord Henry Wotton (George Sanders). As the years pass, Dorian’s youth mysteriously remains intact as the painting of him (now hidden away in the attic) begins to age, echoing the dark deeds of the life he’s led.

Directed by Albert Lewin, this adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray is still considered the quintessential screen version of Oscar Wilde’s classic novel. Even today, it’s impossible not to still be struck by the various ways in which the film sears through so many real-life elements. It’s take on class, romance and vanity can’t help but serve as one of the strongest criticisms of society ever transferred from literature to film. Although draped in lavish surroundings, The Picture of Dorian Gray almost immediately plunges head first into the darkness that exists in the heart of its titular character and never retreats. Everyone in the cast is superb, especially an Oscar-nominated Angela Lansbury, who is the epitome of the tragic heroine. Likewise, the movie’s effects, while subtle, add plenty of genuine fear and unease to savor. But it’s Dorian’s battle with the monster inside of him reflected in the frightening picture that has always given The Picture of Dorian Gray its real power as one of the most fascinating examples of classic horror ever made.

The Sandpiper and The Picture of Dorian Gray are both available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Warner Archive.

Previous post Make it a Double: VOYAGERS & SOLACE
Next post Now Streaming on Hi-YAH: Jackie Chan’s North American Debut in BATTLE CREEK BRAWL