Movie Name: Oliver!
Studio: Romulus Films
Release Date(s): September 26, 1968
MPAA Rating: G
Oliver Twist (Mark Lester) is born into squallor when his mother dies in childbirth leaving him nameless and an orphan. Sold to an undertaker by Mr. Bumble (Harry Secombe), Oliver flees to London where he meets up with a boy by the moniker of the Artful Dodger (Jack Wild) and a group of children under the watchful eye of Fagin (Ron Moody). When Oliver is caught during a robbery, he finds a home for the first time and has the hope of a future. The past, however, won’t leave Oliver alone and Bill Sikes (Oliver Reed) is out to silence him despite the objections of his girlfriend Nancy (Shani Wallis) and Fagin.
Directed by Carol Reed, Oliver! adapted the hit musical which premiered in London in 1960 and adapts the classic Charles Dickens story. It won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adaption Score, Best Art Direction, and Best Sound and a special award for Choreography with nominations for Best Actor (Ron Moody), Best Supporting Actor (Jack Wild), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Film Editing. It is the first an only film with a G-Rating to win the Academy Awards since the rating system went in place (which is ironic since it was followed by the first and only X-Rated film to win with Midnight Cowboy).
Oliver! is a fun musical but it looks so much older than it really is. The movie has a bright colorful look that harkens back to older days of musicals and it is amazing that it falls between much more modern looking In the Heat of the Night and Midnight Cowboy. It looks much more like a film from the late ’50s or early ’60s.
Oliver! is one of those musicals that is great for kids. The music is easy to learn and catchy and the most complex song in the whole film is the overlapping “Who Will Buy” that actually sounds more modern than anything else in the movie. Growing up, my sister had the record and would play it nonstop, so I feel pretty versed in the movie. Despite some longer choreography sequences and more Bill Sikes, the movie does follow the stage play.
It is aided by extremely likable characters but hindered a bit in that Oliver is pretty weak. Mark Lester’s singing voice was dubbed by Kathe Green who was the daughter of the musical director Johnny Green, and it has a bit of a weird effect. Ron Moody takes his stage portrayal to the film, but the movie is probably stolen by Jack Wild (who went on to star on H.R. Pufnstuf) as the fun Artful Dodger. Oliver Reed was up and coming as Bill Sike and has a nice turn for Shani Wallis as Nancy (and I love the “Oom-Pah-Pah” song).
Oliver! won in a rather weak year of competition. The movie is fun and endearing, but it also a bit flawed (plus long). I enjoy the movie, and kids would like the movie especially fans of other musicals like Annie, The Sound of Music, or other more traditional stage musicals. Oliver! also represented the end of an era in that it was the final time a musical (a once mighty movie format) won Best Picture until Chicago in 2002.