Drama / Family / Musical

Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 82%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 81%
IMDb Rating 7.4 10 33962

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Uploaded By: FREEMAN



Oliver Reed as Bill Sikes
Jack Wild as The Artful Dodger
Mark Lester as Oliver
Kenneth Cranham as Noah Claypole

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by theowinthrop 10 / 10

First the novel, then the straight dramatic film, then the musical - and the best picture "Oscar"

OLIVER TWIST was to have controversy as well as success following it after Dickens published it in 1837. His picture of life in the urban ghettos was something shocking and new, and his making the central figures of the novel include criminals was another innovation.

One day he was walking in London and passed a young woman he had been friendly with. He said hello, but she was rather stiff with him. He could not understand this. A few days later they met again, and he asked what he had done to upset her. "Well, if you must know, I did not like your last novel.", she said. "Really, everyone else thinks highly of it." He was puzzled: "What's wrong with it?" "Oh, Charles," she said, "I'm Jewish. How could you make up such a character like Fagin?!" He had not expected this: "Well...you know that trial last year of Ikey Solomon, the thief trainer. He's a model for Fagin and he was Jewish."

Dickens found that did not settle things. "Yes," she replied, "He got what he deserved. But Charles, they did not call him "Solomon the Jew" like you call Fagin "the Jew"! Moreover, Solomon did not plan a murder. Fagin does." Dickens had to admit that he might have gotten carried away. He left thinking about what she said.

Oliver Twist was published in several editions. Dickens tried to improve on Fagin a bit. Then he got an idea. He reworked the chapter called "Fagin's Last Night Alive", showing the fears in the man as he faced hanging. He also added some additional details.

He let his female friend know about his resolve to change Fagin. A day or so later he met her at a friend's house. She looked at him as though he was crazy. "Didn't you like the changes?", he asked. "Charles, what changes - he's still a vile villain called "the Jew"!", she replied. "Yes, I did keep those in, but didn't you see how frightened he was in the death cell in prison." The young woman had noticed this, but felt that he was so vile he deserved to be suffering such fears. "Ah...then I was right about that...and did you see the little details I added?", he asked. "What details?", she replied. "When you first see Fagin now he is cooking himself dinner...you read that?", Dickens looked at her expecting a sign of recognition. Instead the lady looked confused. "I read he was at the fireplace, but I must have skimmed the passage." Dickens smiled as though he was brilliant, "He is cooking a pork sausage for his dinner." "A what!"she exclaimed. "He's eating pork, my dear...see - he's not a good Jew!" His friend looked at him, shook her head, and to his dismay left their friend's house. She didn't speak to him for years.

Dickens never totally shook off his own bigotries, but the situation did lead to a partial attempt at amends in his last completed novel. In OUR MUTUAL FRIEND (1865) he has a minor character, Mr. Riah, who is used by an unscrupulous landlord to collect high rents from poor tenants. The landlord figures that Mr. Riah will be blamed because he is Jewish.

But Mr. Riah is a good man. He is a very good man. He is a very, very, very, very good man - so good as to be unbelievable. If Fagin saw Mr. Riah in action he'd probably chase him away with a stick.

The anti-Semitic image of Fagin lingers to this day. It is a measure of Dickens' genius as a writer that the novel overcomes it. However, in presenting the story on film it still causes problems for screenplay writers and directors: how, after the Holocaust, can one do a film treatment of a worthy novel without inflaming bigotry? David Lean showed how by having Alec Guiness appear in one or two scenes showing a human side and in confronting a mob at the end with true dignity. Sir Carol Reed, in his musical version of the novel did it better yet, due to a rewrite in the original musical's script.

OLIVER had been made into a West End musical hit in the middle 1960s, and then taken to Broadway where it was again a hit. With a wonderful score by Lionel Bart, including "Food Glorious Food", "I Am Reviewing the Situation", "Consider Yourself", "Boy For Sale", "Who Will Buy", "As Long As He Needs Me", it deserved it's success. Reed did well in his casting the roles, including his nephew Oliver Reed as Sykes, Ron Moody as Fagin, Mark Lester as Oliver, Jack Wild as the Dodger, Shani Wallis as Nancy, and Harry Secombe as Mr. Bumble. There had been no big musical successes in Hollywood for a decade - the last musical to win the Best Picture Oscar had been GIGI in 1958. OLIVER won it in 1968.

And Fagin - how to handle the eternal problem of the caricature? Well in the musical Fagin is not captured, tried and executed for the murder that is committed. After all, even Lean showed Fagin tried to control his confederate in his actions. But here Fagin realizes that he is getting too old to depend on this kind of chancy life. Although he loses his treasures (those stolen items he kept because he knew their value, and admired their beauty), he decides he can reform. He is allowed to do so, accompanied by his faithful acolyte, the Artful Dodger. I don't think Dickens would have appreciated the change (his female friend might have), but a modern audience certainly accepts it as fitting.

Reviewed by DennisJOBrien 9 / 10

This is proof that British film studios of the 1960's could provide high quality productions

I was lucky to see "Oliver!" in 1968 on a big cinema screen in Boston when I was a young teenager. Later, during the summer of 1969, I was pleased to see this film was still playing at a prominent cinema in Leicester Square, London, after it had won the Academy Award for Best Picture of the previous year.

Th success of "Oliver!" on both the stage and screen reminded me that not all talent begins on Broadway and ends in Hollywood. This legendary story by Charles Dickens, which is part of the literary heritage of all English-speaking people, was admirably brought to the London stage by Lionel Bart of Great Britain. His charming musical then became a hit in New York and throughout the world. The film adaptation was made in England during the summer of 1967 and then released in 1968. The sets and musical numbers are mind boggling. The song "Who Will Buy?" required hundreds of actors and the British film director truly deserved his Oscar for putting it all together in a seamless manner. Some Canadian and American talent is also part of this wonderful production, but mostly it is a tribute to the fine craftsmanship of the British film studios, such as Shepperton. Good show! Other film studios at Elstree, Boreham Wood, Bray, Denham, and Ealing have also given the world many films to treasure over the years.

Reviewed by screenman 9 / 10

An Excellent Interpretation of Dickens.

As a lifelong fan of Dickens, I have invariably been disappointed by adaptations of his novels.

Although his works presented an extremely accurate re-telling of human life at every level in Victorian Britain, throughout them all was a pervasive thread of humour that could be both playful or sarcastic as the narrative dictated. In a way, he was a literary caricaturist and cartoonist. He could be serious and hilarious in the same sentence. He pricked pride, lampooned arrogance, celebrated modesty, and empathised with loneliness and poverty. It may be a cliché, but he was a people's writer.

And it is the comedy that is so often missing from his interpretations. At the time of writing, Oliver Twist is being dramatised in serial form on BBC television. All of the misery and cruelty is their, but non of the humour, irony, and savage lampoonery. The result is just a dark, dismal experience: the story penned by a journalist rather than a novelist. It's not really Dickens at all.

'Oliver!', on the other hand, is much closer to the mark. The mockery of officialdom is perfectly interpreted, from the blustering beadle to the drunken magistrate. The classic stand-off between the beadle and Mr Brownlow, in which the law is described as 'a ass, a idiot' couldn't have been better done. Harry Secombe is an ideal choice.

But the blinding cruelty is also there, the callous indifference of the state, the cold, hunger, poverty and loneliness are all presented just as surely as The Master would have wished.

And then there is crime. Ron Moody is a treasure as the sleazy Jewish fence, whilst Oliver Reid has Bill Sykes to perfection.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Lionel Bart - himself a Jew from London's east-end - takes a liberty with Fagin by re-interpreting him as a much more benign fellow than was Dicken's original. In the novel, he was utterly ruthless, sending some of his own boys to the gallows in order to protect himself (though he was also caught and hanged). Whereas in the movie, he is presented as something of a wayward father-figure, a sort of charitable thief rather than a corrupter of children, the latter being a long-standing anti-semitic sentiment. Otherwise, very few liberties are taken with Dickens's original. All of the most memorable elements are included. Just enough menace and violence is retained to ensure narrative fidelity whilst at the same time allowing for children' sensibilities. Nancy is still beaten to death, Bullseye narrowly escapes drowning, and Bill Sykes gets a faithfully graphic come-uppance.

Every song is excellent, though they do incline towards schmaltz. Mark Lester mimes his wonderfully. Both his and my favourite scene is the one in which the world comes alive to 'who will buy'. It's schmaltzy, but it's Dickens through and through.

I could go on. I could commend the wonderful set-pieces, the contrast of the rich and poor. There is top-quality acting from more British regulars than you could shake a stick at.

I ought to give it 10 points, but I'm feeling more like Scrooge today. Soak it up with your Christmas dinner. No original has been better realised.

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