Oliver Twist (1948)

oliver twist poster 1948 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Nice adaptation

Unfortunate Alec Guinness make-up

Movie Info

Movie Name: Oliver Twist

Studio: Cineguild

Genre(s): Drama

Release Date(s): June 22, 1948 (UK)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

oliver twist more john howard davies

More please?

A baby is born to a dying mother and possesses no keys to his identity.  Named Oliver Twist, the boy (John Howard Davies) grows up in an orphanage until he accidentally finds himself on a great adventure.  Running away to London, Oliver is taken in by a thief named Fagin (Alec Guinness) and his batch of robber boys led by the Artful Dodger (Anthony Newley).  Oliver meets a kind older man (Henry Stephenson) that could offer his chance at happiness and a home, but Fagin’s associate Bill Sykes (Robert Newton) and a mysterious man named Monks (Ralph Truman) have other plans for Oliver.

Directed by David Lean, Oliver Twist is a period drama.  The film adapts the classic 1838 novel by Charles Dickens and was well received upon its release.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #32).

Oliver Twist is a familiar story to everyone.  It is full of iconic moments like Oliver asking for food and learning how to pick pockets, but often (like many Dickens stories), it is played for a lighter feel despite dark issues and themes…this Oliver Twist seems to revel in the darkness of the story.

oliver twist fagin racist alec guinness john howard davies

Obi-wan…how could you?

The adaptation is a lot closer than other versions, but I often find the original version of the story kind of gets a little crowded.  While Monks is important as a character, his involvement in the story generally overshadows the great villain in Bill Sykes (often Monks character is just eliminated), and the Monks character’s storyline kind of feels like an afterthought in comparison.  Often Fagin is painted a little more sympathetically, but here Fagin and the kids (even Nancy at points) are just 100% users with no redeeming qualities…it is probably more on point, but many versions paint Fagin’s world as a mini-home for the kids who have none.

The cast is strong.  It feels like the classic casting of the story with the waifish John Howard Davies in the unpopular (and often sidelined) lead of Oliver.  Henry Stephenson is the perfect grandfather character (that isn’t the relationship in the original novel).  Many versions of the story play up Anthony Newley’s Artful Dodger into a fun “best friend” character for Oliver, but here, Dodger takes a smaller role.  Robert Newton is thoroughly sinister as Bill Sykes and even Alec Guinness’s Fagin is as mentioned cruel.

oliver twist bill sykes robert newton

Nope…I’m a great guy…just misunderstood

Fagin provides the biggest problem in this version.  While the sets and the locations look great, the decision to give Fagin a very stereotypical racist Jewish look is kind of distracting and unnecessary.  The skill of Alec Guinness didn’t need the facial make-up to make him a “bad man”, and it just feels like anti-Semitism.

Oliver Twist is a solid adaptation of Dickens’ classic novel with a few problems (some of which are inherent to the novel).  If you are a big fan of the musical, you might find this version a bit jarring since it is darker and retreating to the “fun” of Oliver! might be a little harder the next time…more, please!

Related Links:

Oliver! (1968)

Oliver & Company (1988)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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