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Oliver! (1968, Ron Moody, Oliver Reed)

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Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, a tale of pickpockets and Victorian workhouses, may have seemed an odd choice for a bright and breezy musical, but there’s no doubting the genius in Lionel Bart’s extravaganza (adapted from his own 1960 West End hit). Ron Moody reprised his stage role as Fagin, while the film is also memorable for introducing two unknown talents in child actors Mark Lester and Jack Wild. It’s the music that really shines, though, with a plethora of great songs – from Food, Glorious Food and You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two to Consider Yourself, I’d Do Anything and As Long As He Needs Me. The film also marked a brief renaissance in the career of master director Carol Reed, who won an Academy Award for best director for his sterling efforts (the film also won four others, including best picture).

The Victorian saga starts when a young orphan boy, Oliver Twist (Mark Lester), is banished from a workhouse run by Mr Bumble (Harry Secombe) for requesting second helpings at dinner. Sold on to an undertaker, he runs away and is befriended in London by another young boy, known only as the Artful Dodger (Jack Wild). The Dodger introduces him to Fagin (Moody), a master criminal who’s running a pick-pocketing operation utilising hundreds of similarly homeless boys.

Oliver’s first foray into this underground world ends with him being arrested, although when his accuser, Mr Brownlow (Joseph O’Connor), realises his innocence, he takes him home to try and rehabilitate him. Unfortunately, one of Fagin’s acquaintances, Bill Sykes (Oliver Reed), believes the youngster will reveal the pickpockets’ lair to the police and tries to use his prostitute girlfriend, Nancy (Shani Wallis), to entice Oliver back to his former life. The scene is set for murder, tragedy and larceny on the grandest of scales.

production details
UK / 153 minutes / 1968

Director: Carol Reed
Writers: Vernon Harris, Lionel Bart (based on the musical by Lionel Bart) , Novel: Charles Dickens

cast
Ron Moody as Fagin
Shani Wallis as Nancy
Oliver Reed as Bill Sikes
Harry Secombe as Bumble
Mark Lester as Oliver
Jack Wild as The Artful Dodger
Hugh Griffith as Magistrate
Joseph O’Conor as Mr. Brownlow
Peggy Mount as Mrs. Bumble
Leonard Rossiter as Sowerberry
Hylda Baker as Mrs. Sowerberry
Kenneth Cranham as Noah Claypole
Megs Jenkins as Mrs. Bedwin
Sheila White as Bet
Wensley Pithey as Dr. Grimwig
James Hayter as Mr. Jessop
Elizabeth Knight as Charlotte
Fred Emney as Chairman – Workhouse
Norman Mitchell as Arresting Policeman

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