Director Carol Reed’s lively musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s classic tale stars Mark Lester as the titular orphan who escapes the workhouse and is taken under the wing of wily pickpocket Fagin (Ron Moody). Befriended by the crafty Artful Dodger (Jack Wild) and resented by the brutish Bill Sikes (Oliver Reed), Oliver navigates his way through 19th-century London in this highly touted film that captured six Oscars, including Best Picture.
By request, I took the time to watch Oliver! this evening. The last time I saw this film, I was just not in the mood for it. This time, I was in a much better mental state, but still couldn’t get into it, for some reason.
What did I like?
Leave ‘em singing. If nothing else can be said about this film, it can definitely be noted that the songs are quite memorable. My personal favorite is “Oom-pah-pah”. A tip of the hat to Lionel Bart for creating songs that the audience will remember long after the film has ended and will even find themselves randomly singing in the supermarket.
The source. From what I recall about Oliver Twist, this film doesn’t veer off too far from that source material. Yes, there are some slight deviations and whatnot, but these were also taken out/added in the stage version, so no big whoop. As a matter of fact, I read that the changes they made to the character of Sikes for this film made him closer to the book version that the stage version. Kudos, filmmakers…kudos, indeed!
Sets. The set pieces are elegant in their simplicity. The film recreates turn of the century London and with a couple of exceptions here and there, you can’t even tell it is a painted backdrop (which I actually prefer to the real thing sometimes).
What didn’t I like?
Singing voice. I seem to remember hearing that they dubbed Oliver’s singing voice, but kept it hidden until an interview some 20-30 yrs later. Trust me, when you see this, there is no doubt that isn’t his voice. You would think they’d have done a better job of finding someone who has a voice that fits his look. It was like hearing Julie Andrews’ voice come out of that kid fromModern Family.It just didn’t work!
Acting. They made the decision to go with unknown actors. I applaud them for that. It was no doubt cheaper. However, if you’re going to do that, then you need to at least find some that can actually act. Don’t get me wrong, there are some that seem as if they could pull off solo shows on the complete works of Shakespeare followed by reading the phone book and there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house, but others make Kristen Stewart and Megan Fox seem like Meryl Streep!
Development. Maybe it was just me, but it sure seems as if the scenes where Oliver was with the rich family could have been fleshed out a bit more, rather than just slightly skimmed over, as if it was nothing more than a place to stick the song “Who Will Buy” in and maybe add a different set piece.
Oliver! doesn’t deliver where it should. Yes this is a musical where the music is a strong reason that you should see it. However, the rest of the parts of the film keep it from going to that next level. I’ll recommend this, though. It isn’t a bad film, but for me, if I want to see an Oliver Twist film, I’ll watch Oliver & Company.
3 3/4 out of 5 stars