Oliver! (1968)

It had been many years since I saw this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic story of Oliver Twist, which of course is itself an adaptation of a stage musical with long runs on both its native West End and on Broadway. Although I own this film on VHS, it’s certainly a far cry from watching it in high definition and in its original aspect ratio, as it should be seen.

The 1968 film version of OLIVER! takes its screenplay not only from both Lionel Bart’s book but also Dickens’ original novel, and a cast comprising both unknowns such as Mark Lester in the title role, Shani Wallis as Nancy, and Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger; and stalwarts of stage and screen including Oliver Reed (who was actually suggested by a producer who didn’t know he was the nephew of the film’s director, Carol Reed!) as Bill Sykes, Harry Secombe as Mr. Bumble, and Hugh Griffith (who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar® for BEN-HUR nine years earlier) as the Magistrate.

OLIVER! breathed new life into Charles Dickens’ timeless tale with its enduring and memorable songs (all of which are also written by Bart), and Carol Reed’s film version is just as universal in its appeal, further backed by its well-balanced and respectful screenplay, superb cast of characters, excellent production design and incidental score, and intricate choreography. It won five Academy Awards® including Best Picture, as well as Carol Reed’s only directorial win, plus a special honorary Oscar® for Onna White’s choreography (a similar competitive category, Best Dance Direction, was awarded from 1935 through 1937).

On a side note, Mark Lester did not do his own singing! Music arranger/supervisor Johnny Green noted in an interview for the film’s 20th anniversary that Lester was “tone deaf and arrhythmic.” After two boys tested for his singing voice didn’t seem to fit, Green’s daughter Kathe was used instead…and really, she dubs it so well that you really couldn’t be able to tell it’s a girl singing.