Oliver! (film)

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Oliver!
Oliver! (1968 movie poster).jpg
British theatrical release poster
Directed byCarol Reed
Screenplay byVernon Harris
Based onOliver!
1960 musical
by Lionel Bart
Oliver Twist
1837 novel
by Charles Dickens
Produced byJohn Woolf
StarringRon Moody
Oliver Reed
Harry Secombe
Shani Wallis
Mark Lester
Jack Wild
CinematographyOswald Morris
Edited byRalph Kemplen
Music byLionel Bart (music and lyrics)
John Green (music score)
Production
company
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 26 September 1968 (1968-09-26)
Running time
153 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom[1]
LanguageEnglish
Budget$10 million
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 by John Woolf 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.[2]

Plot[edit]

Act 1[edit]

At a workhouse in Dunstable, orphans are served their daily gruel ("Food, Glorious Food"). A group of boys draw lots, with Oliver drawing the tangled one, forcing him to approach Mr. Bumble and the Widow Corney, and ask, "Please, sir, may I have some more?" Enraged, Bumble takes Oliver to the governors for punishment ("Oliver!") and then parades Oliver in the street to sell him off as an apprentice ("Boy for Sale"). Mr. Sowerberry, an undertaker, buys Oliver, but Sowerberry's other apprentice Noah Claypole bullies Oliver; when Oliver retaliates, Oliver is thrown first into a coffin and then into the cellar, where he laments his lack of a family ("Where Is Love?"). Suddenly, he discovers the window grate is unlocked; Oliver escapes.

Weeks later, Oliver reaches London. He meets the Artful Dodger, who instantly 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 ("You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two"). Fagin later meets with Bill Sikes, a burglar, while Sikes's girlfriend Nancy joyfully remarks on low-class life ("It's a Fine Life"). When Fagin returns to his den, he goes through a secret cache of treasures. Oliver wakes up, notices Fagin's secret, and startles the man, who explains that the trove is to help him in his old age ("You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two (Reprise)").

In the morning, Nancy and her friend Bet arrive at the hideout to collect Sikes's money. The boys mock Oliver for his good manners, which Nancy finds charming ("I'd Do Anything"). Fagin sends the boys out for the day, teaming Oliver with Dodger ("Be Back Soon"). At a bookstall, Dodger steals a wallet from Mr. Brownlow, who quickly mistakes Oliver for being the thief and has police arrest him. Fearing Oliver will rat out the gang, Fagin and Sikes send Nancy to court, where Oliver is too terrified to speak; fortunately, the bookseller Mr. Jessop, testifies that Oliver is innocent. Brownlow takes Oliver in, while Sikes and Fagin send Dodger to follow them, to Nancy's displeasure.

Act 2[edit]

Oliver wakes up in Mr. Brownlow's luxurious house and happily watches from his balcony the merchants and inhabitants of Bloomsbury Square ("Who Will Buy"). 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, Mr. Brownlow sends Oliver on an errand. Before he departs, Oliver notices a portrait painting of a beautiful young girl. Mr. Brownlow notes Oliver's resemblance to the girl (his niece, Emily, who disappeared years ago). He begins to suspect he may be Oliver's great-uncle. During the errand, Nancy and Sikes grab Oliver and bring him back to Fagin's den. A quarrel ensues over Oliver's future and who keeps the items that Mr. Brownlow entrusted to Oliver; Oliver's resistance goads Sikes into beating him, but Nancy stays Sikes's hand. Nancy remorsefully reviews their life, but Sikes maintains that any living is better than none. Fagin tries to soothe Sikes's temper, prompting Sikes to declare that if anyone ratted them out, Sikes will kill Fagin. Once Sikes and Nancy leave, Fagin considers abandoning his criminal life, but each imagined alternative proves just as untenable ("Reviewing the Situation").

Mr. Brownlow, investigating Oliver's parentage, summons Mr. Bumble and Corney, who give him a locket belonging to Oliver's mother, who died in childbirth at the workhouse. Mr. Brownlow recognizes the locket as his niece's and, after hearing that Mr. Bumble had always planned to keep it until a reward was offered, angrily throws the two out. Meanwhile, Sikes, paranoid that Oliver may inform on them, tries to spoil Oliver's innocence by bringing him along on a house robbery. The mission goes awry, but they escape safely; meanwhile, Nancy, worrying for Oliver's life, seeks out Mr. Brownlow. She confesses her part in Oliver's kidnapping but does not betray Fagin or Sikes. She promises to return Oliver to Mr. Brownlow at midnight at London Bridge.

Nancy is at their usual tavern when Sikes appears with Oliver and sits down with Fagin, ordering his dog Bullseye to guard the boy. Nancy starts up a lively drinking song ("Oom-Pah-Pah"); when Bullseye barks, Sikes suddenly sees that Oliver and Nancy have escaped during the rowdy song.

Oliver and Nancy arrive at London Bridge, but Sikes and Bullseye catch up to them. A struggle over Oliver ensues, ending with Sikes brutally clubbing Nancy to death. Sikes then takes Oliver but finds Bullseye will no longer obey him. After Sikes runs off, Bullseye alerts people nearby to the scene of Nancy's murder. Desperate, Sikes returns to Fagin's den and demands help, revealing that he killed Nancy. Bullseye, however, leads the angry mob (including Mr. Brownlow) to the hideout, causing all the thieves to frantically flee. With Oliver as his hostage, Sikes runs off; Fagin, in the hubbub, drops his box of treasures, which irretrievably sink into mud. The mob chases Sikes across rooftops until a policeman shoots Sikes dead.

Fagin decides that he will, indeed, abandon his criminal life. Suddenly, Dodger steps out from hiding and presents him with a stolen wallet. Realizing their talents lie in crime, they happily choose to remain thieves ("Reviewing the Situation (Reprise)"). Oliver returns to Mr. Brownlow's home for good.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Casting[edit]

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 as nephew and uncle respectively. Many felt that the role of Nancy should have gone to Georgia Brown, who had played the role in the West End production.[3] Classical actor Joseph O'Conor, not well known in the U.S., played Mr. Brownlow.

Ron Moody later told an interviewer that when it was first proposed that he play Fagin, he felt that character was “pretty vicious and unpleasant; I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to perpetuate what I considered to be an unfair, unpleasant image of Jewish people.” He came to realize that “that the only way to play Fagin was to forget Dickens and create a clown and I used every trick I could think of to take Fagin away from Dickens’ concept and to bring it into more of an entertainment situation.”[4]

Filming at Shepperton Studios commenced on 23 June 1967.[5]

Music[edit]

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

The film earned $10.5 million in theatrical rentals at the US and Canadian box office.[6] and took $77,402,877 worldwide.[7][8] 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.[9]

Critical response[edit]

The performance of Jack Wild received critical acclaim and earned the 16-year-old actor his only nominations for a Golden Globe Award and a BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles, as well as nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, making him the fourth-youngest nominee in the category.

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."[10]

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."[11] He later named the film as the seventh best film of 1968.[12]

John Simon wrote 'Oliver is a nice, big movie musical which it is hard to say anything of special interest to the reader or even to oneself'.[13]

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."[14]

Rotten Tomatoes awards the film an 89% "fresh" rating based on 74 reviews, with an average score of 8/10; the critics' consensus reads: "Oliver! transforms Charles Dickens’ muckraking novel into a jaunty musical Victorian fairytale, buoyed by Ron Moody’s charming star turn and Onna White’s rapturous choreography."[15]

At his death in 2015, The Forward said that Moody succeeded in transforming "a viciously anti-Semitic literary portrait into a joyous musical onscreen image."[4]

Accolades[edit]

Oliver!, along with Columbia Pictures' other Best Picture nominee Funny Girl, secured a combined total of 19 Academy Award nominations, the most nominations for musicals from one studio in a year.

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.

Award[16] Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[17] Best Picture John Woolf Won
Best Director Carol Reed Won
Best Actor Ron Moody Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Jack Wild Nominated
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Vernon Harris Nominated
Best Art Direction John Box, Terence Marsh, Vernon Dixon and Ken Muggleston Won
Best Cinematography Oswald Morris Nominated
Best Costume Design Phyllis Dalton Nominated
Best Film Editing Ralph Kemplen Nominated
Best Score of a Musical Picture – Original or Adaptation Johnny Green Won
Best Sound Buster Ambler, John Cox, Jim Groom, Bob Jones and Tony Dawe Won
Honorary Academy Award Onna White Won
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film Ralph Kemplen Nominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Film Carol Reed Nominated
Best Direction Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role Ron Moody Nominated
Best Costume Design Phyllis Dalton Nominated
Best Editing Ralph Kemplen Nominated
Best Production Design John Box Nominated
Best Sound John Cox and Bob Jones Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles Jack Wild Nominated
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Carol Reed Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Won
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Ron Moody Won
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Hugh Griffith Nominated
Best Director – Motion Picture Carol Reed Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer – Male Jack Wild Nominated
Laurel Awards Top Musical Won
Top Male New Face Mark Lester Nominated
Ron Moody Nominated
Top Female New Face Shani Wallis Nominated
Moscow International Film Festival[18] Special Prize Carol Reed Won
Best Actor Ron Moody Won
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films 9th Place
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Director Carol Reed Nominated
Sant Jordi Awards Best Performance in a Foreign Film Ron Moody Won

Preservation[edit]

The Academy Film Archive preserved Oliver! in 1998.[19]

Home video[edit]

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.[20] 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.[21]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Oliver! (1968)". BFI. Archived from the original on 6 August 2020. Retrieved 9 August 2020.
  2. ^ "The 100 best British films" Archived 3 April 2019 at archive.today. Time Out. Retrieved 26 October 2017
  3. ^ High Fidelity/Musical America. Billboard Pub. 1969. p. 134. Archived from the original on 15 December 2019. Retrieved 17 February 2020.
  4. ^ a b Ivry, Benjamin (15 June 2016). "Remembering Fagin and Ron Moody, the Man Who Played Him". The Forward. Archived from the original on 22 June 2015. Retrieved 26 November 2022.
  5. ^ [1] Archived 24 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1969". Variety. 7 January 1970. p. 15.
  7. ^ "Box Office Information for Oliver!". The Numbers. Archived from the original on 9 February 2012. Retrieved 9 January 2012.
  8. ^ "Box Office and Business for Oliver!". IMDb. Archived from the original on 29 July 2014. Retrieved 9 January 2012.
  9. ^ "'Oliver' Ends London Run; 'Julius Caesar' Replaces". Variety. 10 June 1970. p. 29.
  10. ^ Pauline Kael Going Steady, p.202
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (22 December 1968). "Oliver! Movie Review & Film Summary". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 14 October 2013 – via RogerEbert.com.
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (15 December 2004). "Ebert's 10 Best Lists: 1967-present". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 7 July 2013. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  13. ^ Simon, John (1971). Movies into Film Film Criticism 1967-1970. The Dial Press. p. 329.
  14. ^ Murdock, Henry T. "'Oliver!' Offers Melodrama and Songs." Philadelphia Inquirer, 20 December 1968.
  15. ^ "Oliver!". Rotten Tomatoes. 1968. Archived from the original on 11 February 2017. Retrieved 10 May 2022.
  16. ^ Oliver! at IMDb
  17. ^ "The 41st Academy Awards (1969) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  18. ^ "6th Moscow International Film Festival (1969)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 16 January 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2012.
  19. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive. Archived from the original on 13 August 2016. Retrieved 4 August 2016.
  20. ^ "Oliver! DVD comparison". DVDCompare. Archived from the original on 24 October 2015. Retrieved 10 March 2021.
  21. ^ "Oliver! Blu-ray comparison". DVDCompare. Archived from the original on 24 August 2020. Retrieved 10 March 2021.

External links[edit]