Release Date: 26 September, 1968
Oscar Ceremony: 14 April, 1969
Director: Carol Reed
Starring: Mark Lester, Ron Moody, Shani Wallis
Nominees: Funny Girl, The Lion in Winter, Rachel Rachel, Romeo & Juliet
“Please sir, I want some more!” – Oliver Twist
Forgive my lack of originality for the quote I chose, but how could I not? Even if you haven’t the slightest idea what Charles Dickens’ famous story of Oliver Twist is about, you’ve surely heard this line at least a few times in your life. It’s iconic.
I’ll admit I was slightly thrown off by the exclamation point in the title of the movie, but then I found out it’s actually based on the West End musical of the same name (which in turn is based on Charles Dickens’ novel). In other words, the movie Oliver! is an adaptation of an adaptation. Either way, despite the exclamation point, I knew not to expect anything too intense since I had to dig this one up in the kids’ section of the library. I’m not entirely convinced by that classification, but that’s a story for another day.
Oliver Twist is a young orphan who lives and works in a warehouse during the 1830s. One day, he has the nerve to ask his masters for an extra portion of gruel and consequently gets sold into service to the highest bidder. Ouch. After working as a mourner for children’s funerals and getting insulted by his new master’s apprentice, Oliver loses his cool and gets thrown into a cellar as punishment. Fed up with his misfortune, he manages to crack open a window and decides to escape to London, where he meets a young boy named Artful Dodger. Dodger is pretty welcoming and he invites Oliver to live with him and a few other boys in an attic run by an elderly man named Fagin. The catch is that they make a living by pickpocketing people on the streets, but Oliver is too naïve to understand that. Surprisingly, Fagin isn’t actually too bad; the worst character is a man named Bill Sikes. He does business with Fagin but instead of just stealing out of people’s pockets, he robs people’s homes. He’s also rough and merciless, which makes me feel terribly sorry for his poor girlfriend. Anyways, the point is, how is Oliver going to fare in this lifestyle? Will he ever be able to catch a break and live like a normal child?
Alright so first thing’s first; you can’t really go wrong with the plot because it’s pretty much identical to a beloved classic by a reputable author. It might not be extremely complex or thought-provoking, but it’s a reasonable period piece for all ages. Now, whoever had the idea of transforming it into a musical was brilliant. I guess there’s just something about orphans and musicals (who doesn’t love Annie?) More importantly, they DELIVERED. The songs contribute perfectly to the story and are extremely catchy. I realized that I had actually heard a few of them before without ever knowing that this is where they came from. Moreover, the sets, costumes and performances in general were of very high caliber, which is a standard that movie adaptations of stage musicals often fail to meet.
That being said, let’s return to my number one problem with these Oscar-winning musicals: dubbing. That’s right, the boy who plays Oliver doesn’t actually sing in the movie. Apparently, he was tone-deaf. What a brilliant casting choice! The worst part is that instead of having another young boy dub him, they picked a girl. Boy oh boy is it ridiculously hilarious to listen to him(her?) at times. I also read about other little issues that they had with the lead actor, like not being able to get genuine reactions and display of emotion from him during certain scenes. This leads me to wonder, why on Earth did they pick him? Who was he related to? I guess he’s pretty cute and innocent-looking, so at least he checks off all the boxes in the looks department. I don’t know though, there’s still something weirdly annoying about him.
Overall, I would say this is a pretty decent film. However, I don’t think it’s everyone’s cup of tea. As for me, I’m a bit torn. On the one hand, I really admired all the effort behind the production and I was truly drawn in by most of the musical numbers. On the other hand, I found it too long. The first part actually went by really quickly and then the rest sort of just dragged on. It’s the same thing with the musical numbers; you gawk at them at first but after five minutes you wonder why they’re still going. Either way, I can see why this won Best Picture and in the end I’m okay with it.