|Directed by||Carol Reed|
|Screenplay by||Vernon Harris|
by Lionel Bart
by Charles Dickens
|Produced by||John Woolf|
|Edited by||Ralph Kemplen|
|Music by||Lionel Bart (music and lyrics)|
John Green (music score)
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$77.4 million|
Oliver! is a 1968 British period musical drama film based on Lionel Bart's 1960 stage musical of the same name, itself an adaptation of Charles Dickens's 1838 novel Oliver Twist. Directed by Carol Reed from a screenplay by Vernon Harris, the picture includes such musical numbers as "Food, Glorious Food", "Consider Yourself", "As Long as He Needs Me", "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two", and "Where Is Love?". It stars Ron Moody, Oliver Reed, Harry Secombe, Shani Wallis, Jack Wild, and Mark Lester in the title role. Filmed at Shepperton Film Studio in Surrey, it was a Romulus production and was distributed internationally by Columbia Pictures.
At the 41st Academy Awards for 1968, Oliver! was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won six, including Best Picture, Best Director for Reed, and an Honorary Award for choreographer Onna White. At the 26th Golden Globe Awards, the film won two Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Actor – Musical or Comedy for Ron Moody.
The British Film Institute ranked Oliver! the 77th greatest British film of the 20th century. In 2017, a poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers and critics for Time Out magazine ranked it the 69th best British film ever.
At a workhouse in Dunstable, the governors hold a sumptuous banquet while the orphans are served their daily gruel and dream of enjoying ("Food, Glorious Food"). Forced by some of the other boys, who draw lots, where the tangled one falls on Oliver, Oliver approaches Mr. Bumble and the Widow Corney, and asks for more to eat. Enraged, Bumble takes Oliver to the governors for punishment ("Oliver!"). Paraded in the street to be sold to the highest bidder ("Boy for Sale"), Oliver is purchased by an undertaker. When his apprentice, Noah Claypole insults Oliver's dead mother, Oliver attacks him and is thrown by the undertakers into a coffin, until Mr. Bumble arrives to explain to them that Oliver should have been fed gruel instead of meat. Mr. Bumble grabs Oliver out of the casket and throws him into the cellar. Alone in the dark, surrounded by empty coffins, Oliver wonders ("Where Is Love?") before escaping through a window grate.
After a week on the road, Oliver reaches London. He meets the Artful Dodger, who takes him under his wing ("Consider Yourself"). Dodger brings Oliver to a hideout for young pickpockets led by Fagin, who instructs the gang in the art of stealing, declaring that ("You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two") to get by. Fagin later meets with Bill Sikes, a burglar. Sikes's girlfriend, Nancy, ponders her life ("It's a Fine Life"). When Fagin returns to his den, he opens up a secret wall where the box of valuables are kept, talking to an owl, until Oliver wakes up, startling Fagin, who falsely explains to Oliver that his treasures were for his old age.
In the morning, Nancy and her friend Bet arrive at the hideout to collect Sikes' money. The boys mock Oliver for his manners, which Nancy finds charming. Dodger attempts to be just as gentlemanly ("I'd Do Anything"). Fagin sends the boys out for the day, entrusting Oliver to Dodger ("Be Back Soon"). Dodger steals a wallet from Mr. Brownlow, but Oliver is apprehended instead. Fearing Oliver will lead the police to the gang, Fagin and Sikes send Nancy to court. Oliver is too terrified to speak, but before the verdict is finalized, a witness named Mr. Jessop, the owner of the bookseller, arrives and proclaims Oliver's innocence. Brownlow takes Oliver in, while Sikes and Fagin send Dodger to follow them, to Nancy's displeasure.
Oliver wakes up in Mr. Brownlow's house, and happily watches from his balcony the merchants and inhabitants of Bloomsbury Square singing about this particular morning being so beautiful ("Who Will Buy"). Meanwhile, Fagin and Sikes decide to abduct Oliver and bring him back to the den with Nancy's help. Nancy, who has come to care for Oliver, at first refuses to help, but Sikes physically abuses her, forcing her into obedience. In spite of this, Nancy still loves Sikes, and believes he loves her too ("As Long as He Needs Me").
The next morning at Mr. Brownlow's house in Bloomsbury, Mr. Brownlow sends Oliver to return some books, with a five-pound note, to the booksellers. Before he departs, Oliver notices a portrait painting of a beautiful young girl. Mr Brownlow notes Oliver's similar looks to the girl - his niece Emily who disappeared years ago. He begins to suspect he may be Oliver's great-uncle.
As Oliver stops to enjoy a puppet show with other children, Nancy and Sikes appear and grab Oliver. They bring him back to Fagin's den, where Sikes quarrels and demands the five pound note from Fagin, for all of the trouble Sikes went through to kidnap Oliver, while Fagin keeps the books. After Oliver slaps Sikes, Sikes is about to hit him with a belt, until Nancy saves Oliver from a beating from Sikes after the boy tries to flee. Nancy remorsefully reviews their life, but Bill maintains that any living is better than none. Fagin tries to act as an intermediary, suggesting to Sikes to calmly sit and talk things out; however, Sikes takes Fagin by the scruff of his neck, warning him that if anyone led the authorities to their hideout, Sikes would kill Fagin. At this instant, Fagin declares Sikes to be a violent man. Left alone, Fagin wonders what his life might be like if he became an honest man ("Reviewing the Situation"); however, after thinking of various excuses, he elects to remain a thief.
Bumble and Corney pay a visit to Mr. Brownlow after he begins searching for Oliver's origin. They present a locket belonging to Oliver's mother, who arrived at the workhouse penniless and died during childbirth. Mr. Brownlow recognizes the locket as his niece's and throws the two out, enraged that they selfishly chose to keep the trinket and information to themselves until they could collect a reward for it. Meanwhile, in an attempt to introduce Oliver to a life of crime, Sikes forces Oliver to take part in a house robbery. The robbery fails when Oliver accidentally awakens the occupants, but he and Sikes get away. While Sikes and Oliver are gone, Nancy, fearful for Oliver's life, goes to Mr. Brownlow, confessing her part in Oliver's kidnapping; however, she refuses to state the name of Fagin or Sikes. She promises to return him to Mr. Brownlow at midnight at London Bridge; then she goes to the tavern. When Sikes and Oliver appear, Sikes orders his dog Bullseye to guard the boy. Nancy starts up a lively drinking song ("Oom-Pah-Pah"), hoping that the noise will distract Sikes. Bullseye, however, alerts Sikes, who gives chase.
As Oliver and Nancy share a farewell embrace at London Bridge, Sikes catches up and grabs both of them and throws Oliver aside. Nancy then tries to pull Sikes away, angering him. He then drags her behind the staircase of London Bridge and violently bludgeons her, injuring her fatally. He then takes off with Oliver, but Bullseye returns to the scene where Nancy has succumbed to her injuries and alerts the police. The dog leads Mr. Brownlow and an angry mob to the thieves' hideout. Sikes arrives at Fagin's den and demands money, revealing that he killed Nancy as well. Upon seeing the approaching mob, the thieves disband and flee. Sikes runs off with Oliver, using him as a hostage. During the evacuation, Fagin loses his prized possessions, which sink into mud. Sikes attempts to flee to an adjacent roof, but is shot dead in the process by the police. Fagin makes up his mind to change his ways for good. Just as he is about to walk away a reformed character, Dodger appears from nowhere with a wallet he stole earlier. They dance off into the sunrise together, happily determined to live out the rest of their days as thieves ("Reviewing the situation reprise") while Oliver returns to Mr. Brownlow's home for good.
- Mark Lester as Oliver
- Ron Moody as Fagin
- Jack Wild as Artful Dodger
- Oliver Reed as Bill Sikes
- Shani Wallis as Nancy
- Harry Secombe as Mr. Bumble
- Joseph O'Conor as Mr. Brownlow
- Hugh Griffith as the Magistrate
- Peggy Mount as Corney
- Leonard Rossiter as Mr. Sowerberry
- Hylda Baker as Mrs. Sowerberry
- Kenneth Cranham as Noah Claypole
- Megs Jenkins as Mrs. Bedwin
- Sheila White as Bett
- Wensley Pithey as Dr. Grimwig
- James Hayter as Mr. Jessop
- Elizabeth Knight as Charlotte
- Fred Emney as Chairman of the Workhouse
The film used mostly young unknowns, among them Mark Lester (Oliver), Shani Wallis (Nancy) and Jack Wild as The Artful Dodger, but also featured Hugh Griffith, an Oscar winner for Ben-Hur, in the role of the Magistrate. Harry Secombe, who played Mr. Bumble, was well known in Britain but not in the United States, and Oliver Reed, who played Bill Sikes, had just begun to make a name for himself. Producer John Woolf suggested Oliver Reed for the role to the director Carol Reed, without knowing that the two were, in fact, related. Many felt that the role of Nancy should have gone to Georgia Brown, who had played the role in the West End production. Classical actor Joseph O'Conor, not well known in the U.S., played Mr. Brownlow.
The film earned $10.5 million in theatrical rentals at the US and Canadian box office. and took $77,402,877 worldwide. In the United Kingdom, the film played for 90 weeks at the Leicester Square Theatre in London, grossing $1,992,000. It had been seen by 5 million people across the country at that time.
Oliver! received widespread acclaim from critics. It was hailed by Pauline Kael in her review published in The New Yorker as being one of the few film versions of a stage musical that was superior to the original show, which she suggested she had walked out on. "The musical numbers emerge from the story with a grace that has been rarely seen since the musicals of René Clair."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film four out of four stars. "Sir Carol Reed's Oliver! is a treasure of a movie," he wrote. "It is very nearly universal entertainment, one of those rare films like The Wizard of Oz that appeals in many ways to all sorts of people. It will be immediately exciting to the children, I think, because of the story and the unforgettable Dickens characters. Adults will like it for the sweep and zest of its production. And as a work of popular art, it will stand the test of time, I guess. It is as well-made as a film can be." He particularly admired Carol Reed's working relationship with the children in the film: "Not for a moment, I suspect, did Reed imagine he had to talk down to the children in his audience. Not for a moment are the children in the cast treated as children. They're equal participants in the great adventure, and they have to fend for themselves or bloody well get out of the way. This isn't a watered-down lollypop. It's got bite and malice along with...romance and humor." Although he stated that the film's roadshow presentation was a minor problem for children, who are not used to long films, he praised the production design, musical adaptation score, and casting and acting, particularly that of Ron Moody and Jack Wild. He concluded, "Oliver! succeeds finally because of its taste. It never stoops for cheap effects and never insults our intelligence. And because we can trust it, we can let ourselves go with it, and we do. It is a splendid experience." He later named the film as the seventh best film of 1968.
The Philadelphia Inquirer was enthusiastic: "There's atmosphere and airy grace to 'Oliver!.' It has catchy, sometimes beautiful songs and the voices to go with them. It rarely stops moving and it has the touch of melodramatic excitement....a prancing musical film which by reason of its stagecraft and performance is more exhilarating than it was on the stage, better rounded in its 'free' adaptation."
Rotten Tomatoes awards the film an 82% "fresh" rating based on 33 reviews, with an average score of 7.9/10; the critics' consensus reads: "It has aged somewhat awkwardly, but the performances are inspired, the songs are memorable, and the film is undeniably influential."
Oliver! was the last G-rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was the last movie musical to win the award, until Chicago in 2002 (there have been other musicals nominated such as Hello, Dolly!, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, All That Jazz, Beauty and the Beast and Moulin Rouge!). Oliver! also had the distinction of being the last British film to win Best Picture until Chariots of Fire in 1981.
Commencing in the US in 1998, Oliver! has been released worldwide on DVD by Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment and its successor Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The US DVD has the film, complete with its original overture and entr'acte music, spread across two sides of a double-sided disc, separated at the intermission. Everywhere else, it was issued on a single-sided disc. Since 2013, it has been released on Blu-ray in several countries by Sony, with the US having an additional limited edition release by Twilight Time.
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