Oliver! (1968)

Oliver! (1968)

“This would never have happened if you’d kept him on gruel!”

After being kicked out by the director (Harry Secombe) of his orphanage and the owner (Leonard Rossiter) of a funeral home, a self-reliant young boy named Oliver Twist (Mark Lester) is invited by a pickpocket nicknamed The Artful Dodger (Jack Wild) to join a gang led by greedy Fagin (Ron Moody) and evil Bill Sykes (Oliver Reed), whose loyal girlfriend Nancy (Shani Wallis) works at a local pub.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Carol Reed Films
  • Charles Dickens Adaptations
  • Gangs
  • Historical Drama
  • Hugh Griffith Films
  • Musicals
  • Oliver Reed Films
  • Orphans
  • Thieves and Criminals

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that while “it’s hard not to resent any film to which Hollywood establishment voted the Best Picture Oscar in the year 2001 was released,” he nonetheless believes “it’s time that the ‘hip’ 2001 fans caught up with the mass audience” given that “this is a marvelous film, and an outstanding addition to the fading musical genre.” He points out that this “freely adapted” flick “from Dickens’s Oliver Twist… overcomes a major obstacle”: even though “the original story is one of constant grief and hardship — certainly not material readily adaptable to a musical,” the “happy score” by Lionel Bart, “sung and danced amidst the menacing atmosphere, creates both a ‘feel-good’ sensation and the dreary feeling of the novel.” He notes that while “the novel’s scoundrels are present,” aside “from the incredibly evil Bill Sikes” (it’s geekily intriguing to me that he’s played by Oliver — as in the title character — Reed — as in the director’s last name):

… “they have been somewhat cleansed.” To that end, as DVD Savant writes, “That a man who criminally exploits children for profit should be sympathetic is a credit to Moody’s appeal.”

Peary argues that “much credit for the film’s success can be attributed to Carol Reed,” given that so much of the second half of the movie “depends a great deal on atmosphere and suspense, which Reed pulls off brilliantly.” Meanwhile, Reed also made “sure that the spectacular production numbers were cinematic rather than stagy” and he “allowed his actors free rein to develop interesting, multidimensional personages.” While Peary asserts that “Mark Lester is a bit wimpy in the title role” (I’m not sure I agree — he stands up for himself, time and again!):

… actors Moody, Wild, and Wallis “are absolutely wonderful” (yes).

I also agree with Peary and others that Oliver! remains a crackerjack overall musical, for numerous reasons, but primarily given how many of the songs knock it out of the park. For the record, they include (but are not limited to) “Food, Glorious Food”:

… “Where is Love?”

… “Pick a Pocket or Two”:

… “Consider Yourself”:

… “I’d Do Anything”:

… and “As Long As He Needs Me”:

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Ron Moody as Fagin
  • Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger
  • Shani Wallis as Nancy
  • Oliver Reed as Bill Sikes
  • Many toe-tapping musical numbers (choreographed by Onna White)
  • Atmospheric cinematography and sets

Must See?
Yes, as an enjoyable musical, and for its Oscar winning status.


  • Oscar Winner or Nominee


One thought on “Oliver! (1968)

  1. A once-must, as a solid, satisfying musical. As posted in ‘Film Junkie’ (fb) (12/11/21):

    “We’ve taken to you so strong –
    it’s clear
    going to get along…”

    ‘Oliver!’: Over 50 years after its release, this adaptation by director Carol Reed remains among the sturdiest of filmed musicals. Reed wasn’t known for doing musicals, which turned out to be a good thing. He emphasized both the grittiness and the solid nature of the Dickens source material – leaving the considerable frivolity up to freewheeling choreographer Onna White – and the result is a unique blend of drama and song. Even now, it’s a movie version that doesn’t feel… manufactured, in the way that musicals of the period can feel. Instead, it feels more alive and real, its ‘joy’ often supplanted by its dark underlying scariness.

    It took the Best Film Oscar (Reed won for directing). During the ‘Consider Yourself’ and ‘Who Will Buy?’ numbers, it’s all too easy getting images of the Monty Python parody ‘Every Sperm is Sacred’.

    My personal connection to the musical is twofold. When I was a junior in high school, I was cast as Fagin. I remember that it wasn’t a role I particularly wanted to play (being a teenager asked to play an old man) – but, the year before, I had been in ‘South Pacific’ in the non-singing role of a macho (!) Captain; maybe I had shown some kind of… gravity. (I recall the girl who played Nancy. She was among the least likely to get the part but she had a strong physical presence. She was sort of terrified about singing her songs but she appreciated my encouragement and sang rather well.) Surprisingly, the school went all out for production value,. For a change, they had hired a well-known local director who wanted an overhead bridge with a staircase down each side, and a revolving platform center stage – to facilitate easier shifts of scenes. My strongest memory was the director placing me all over the stage for ‘Reviewing The Situation’.

    Many years later, ‘Oliver!’ stayed with me subliminally, I guess. When I was writing songs for my musical ‘The God Show’, I noticed that in the song ‘The Man I Haven’t Met’, I had placed a tiny homage to ‘As Long As He Needs Me’.

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