"Oliver!" brings to the screen a worthy adaption of Lionel Bart's Broadway musical of the sixties. The combination of a superb cast, wonderful music and breathtaking choreography mean that the film loses nothing in its translation from the stage. To this day it remains one of the stand-out musical adaptions in a dwindling field.
Although the conservative Dickens fanatics may thumb their noses at various liberties taken on the original plot of "Oliver Twist", they should observe that "Oliver!" has recreated most of the spirit intended by Dickens. While primarily a musical comedy, "Oliver!" certainly has a dark undercurrent, thanks to the skillful direction of Carol Reed and the sinister acting of Oliver Reed (playing Bill Sikes). Dickens was essentially a talented satirist, who constructed his characters to convey a moralistic view on Victorian society. "Oliver!" conveys much of the sadness and desperation of the original novel.
For anyone not acquainted with the famous storyline, the film treats of a young orphan, Oliver Twist, and follows his journey from a paupers' workhouse to the rough-and-tumble city life of London. He is spotted and introduced into a gang of thieves, led by the crafty and cunning Fagin. What follows for Oliver is an introduction to the art of picking pockets; the methods of justice dispened by Mr Fang the magistrate; the cruelty of Bill Sikes the notorious thief, and the compassion of Nancy, Bill's mate; the kindness of Mr and Mrs Brownlow. Such an adventure for such a small boy!
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why this Oscar-winning film is such a success. On one hand there is the incredible performances of a gifted cast - Ron Moody being nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Fagin, and young Jack Wild's mature performance as the Artful Dodger. Mark Lester plays Oliver, and depicts all the elements of innocence and vulnerability as could be imagined in the young boy. Harry Secombe backs up the cast as the beadle, Mr Bumble.
Perhaps the best aspect of the film though is the music itself. Lionel Bart has done a masterful job in writing the original score, and you may expect to find yourself singing the songs for weeks after watching "Oliver!". Here are the evergreens, "Reviewing the Situation", "You've Got to Pick a Pocket Or Two", "Who Will Buy", and the beautiful and touching "Where is Love?". The list of classic tunes goes on and on, and if nothing else, young people today should watch the film purely for its educational value - to be introduced to the sweet music of yesteryear, and to see that a film's qualities extend beyond the realms of special effects.
"Oliver!" will rightfully go down as a classic film of its time, and with any luck will keep its place as a family favourite, for years to come. Its warmth and familiar music make it a must-see.
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