“Oliver!” – Classic Period Movie with a Twist!
With the stage show of Dickens’ Oliver Twist (Oliver!) hitting recent headlines for still touring the UK after a staggering 50 years, it is appropriate to take a look at the 1968 movie it so closely relates to.
The 1968 version of “Oliver!” has an original take on most period movies as it contains music. All of the script, music and lyrics are by British musician Lionel Bart. Although there have been remakes of the Dickens classic for over one hundred years, another excellent version being the David Lean adaptation from 1948, which stars actor Anthony Newley as the Artful Dodger; “Oliver!” has to be one of the most memorable. One of the reasons for this is the outstanding cast which features Sir Harry Secombe as Mr Bumble, Leonard Rossiter as Mr Sowerberry, Oliver Reed as Bill Sykes, Ron Moody as Fagin and Mark Lester in the title role. The story is played out as follows:
At the start Oliver is living at an orphanage with fellow young boys and dares to ask for more gruel. In this period such insolence was considered outrageous so Mr Bumble ‘Caretaker’ of the workhouse promptly sells him to undertaker Mr Sowerberry. Oliver fights bully Noah Claypole after he insults his late mother and escapes in a commotion when Mr Bumble comes to collect him.
Oliver heads to London and makes friends with the Artful Dodger without realising he’s a pickpocket. Dodger lures a trusting Oliver to Fagin’s lair where he initially believes they make handkerchiefs, only to discover later in the story that they steal them. Oliver meets Nancy, the live-in girlfriend of terrifying Bill Sykes and it is apparent there is a strong bond between them.
Oliver is framed for a crime he didn’t commit when Mr Brownlow, a wealthy man is robbed. However, he happily resides with Mr Brownlow and Mr Brownlow can’t help but notice the resemblance Oliver shares with his niece. Bill Sykes worries Oliver may reveal the whereabouts of the den so Nancy and Bill grab Oliver. Nancy protects Oliver when Bill tries to beat him and Fagin reviews his ways.
Feeling remorseful about taking Oliver, Nancy returns him to Mr Brownlow, after Mr Brownlow has worked out from a locket with the assistance of Mr Bumble that he and Oliver are related. Bill follows them and kills Nancy, grabbing Oliver as his hostage. Two Policemen sneak up on Bill and one fatally shoots him, leaving Fagin again to ‘Review the Situation’.
How successful has this version been?
The financial success of this version speaks volumes, with Box Office figures being recorded as over $37 million domestic and $56.8 million worldwide and rentals. One of the stars to have his name engraved on a prestigious Golden Globe award is the legendary Ron Moody for his portrayal as Fagin. He achieved ‘Best Actor Motion Picture Musical or Comedy’. Additionally to Ron Moody’s award, another engraving the film received was on the Golden Globe for the Best Motion Picture in 1968. It also won 6 Academy awards.
|Ron Moody as Fagin|
Although the Dickens novel is at times gloomy, this version has uplifting moments and the viewer gets to experience a wide range of emotions. Bart’s musical score is truly excellent, catchy and memorable including songs such as “Food Glorious Food”, which has since been used in many commercials, the moving “Where is Love?” which rather controversially wasn’t actually recorded by Mark Lester and the upbeat “Consider Yourself”. It can only be a positive point that the portrayal of Fagin by Ron Moody in this production is a toned down version of the Dickens original that has been described as anti-Semitic. In fact Fagin is often seen as a likeable rogue by his viewers. In the stage production the character is often portrayed now by Comedians/Comic Actors including Jim Dale and Rowan Atkinson.
Eagerly awaited Sequel
A sequel has recently been written called “Dodger!” It is set 7 years after the events in the Oliver Twist novel. Part of the plot includes Artful Dodger being sentenced to an Australian penal colony. Dodger also becomes romantically involved with a friend of Nancy’s called Bet (who appears briefly in the original movie.) I can only hope this will be turned into a movie of the same stature, but there is no doubt “Oliver!”is going to be a tough act to follow!