Saturday, April 12, 2014

OLIVER! 1968

Lest frequent readers of this blog (and bless you all, every one!) assume the entirety of my childhood was spent watching only age-inappropriate movies that bore the tag “Suggested for Mature Audiences,” I present as Exhibit A: Oliver!; a G-rated favorite that not only stands as testament to my occasionally allowing the odd kid-friendly film to crack my self-styled precocity, but as proof that, at heart, I'm really a big, gooey, sloppy sentimentalist of the highest order.
Mark Lester as Oliver Twist
Ron Moody as Fagin
Jack Wild as Jack Dawkins, aka The Artful Dodger 
Shani Wallis as Nancy 
Oliver Reed as Bill Sikes
Oliver! (oh, how I loathe exclamation points in musical titles) is the big-scale movie adaptation of Lionel Bart’s Tony Award-winning 1963 Broadway musical version of Charles Dickens’ 1838 novel Oliver Twist. A show that, having premiered to great success in London’s West End in 1960, is credited with being the first modern British musical to be transferred successfully to Broadway. 
Taking place in the by-turns poverty-stricken/opulent-wealth areas of London in the early 1830s, Oliver! relates the parable of workhouse orphan Oliver Twist (Lester) who, after running away from an abusive apprenticeship, is taken under the wing of streetwise pickpocket, the Artful Dodger (Wild), and finds a home of sorts with paternal petty thief, Fagin (Moody) and his motley crew of larcenous street urchins.
As befitting any Dickens story, we have a plenitude of scruffy, colorful, supporting characters. A maternal strumpet (prostitute Nancy played with winning charm by Shani Wallace), a brutish villain (the positively terrifying Oliver Reed), and the usual fateful quirks of coincidence and heredity (this time in the form of victim-turned-benefactor/possible blood-relation, Mr. Brownlow [Joseph O’Conor]) offering the only glimmers of hope in lives ruled by class and position.
Joseph O'Conor as Mr. Brownlow
That I fell in love with a big, splashy, arguably over-produced musical is no surprise; that said musical featured swarms of singing and dancing children marked Oliver! as something of a departure for me. For in spite of being a mere kid myself I was 11-years-old when I saw Oliver!I was inclined to find child actors a distinctly insufferable breed (a point of view that hasn’t altered much over the years). They’re either trying too hard to be cute, tugging too aggressively at our heartstrings, or so grotesquely artificial and self-consciously “on” that they come across as pocket-size adults. That I never got around to seeing either The Sound of Music or Mary Poppins until I was well into my 30s is due largely to the fact that for many years I went out of my way to avoid movies that even hinted at the presence of adorable tykes. Generally, I prefer onscreen depictions of children to hew more closely to how they appear to me in real life: i.e., Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed or Jane Withers in Bright Eyes.

I suppose Oliver! conforms to my flinty worldview by being faithful to Dickens’ customary juxtaposing of unapologetic sentimentality with harsh social realism. An alliance which, happily, leaves little room for cute. In fact, the angel-faced Oliver may be the story’s catalyst, but everyone knows the real stars are Fagin, The Artful Dodger, and the ragtag gang of East End reprobates that hang out at The Three Cripples Tavern. Making his musical film debut, director Carol Reed (Odd Man Out, The Third Man) is to be credited for his deft balancing of the brutal with the bathetic, granting the somewhat softened events and characters of Dickens' novel with just the right amount of edge to keep the still-and-all jaunty musical from slipping into mawkishness.
Oliver!’s scruffy band of street urchins are well-cast and well-directed, convincing in their overall grubbiness and commitment to staying in character. Contrast this with John Huston’s 1982 film adaptation of Oliver!’s sex-change musical doppelgänger, Annie: a film where the affected, stagy performances of the orphans hint at a premature vocational enrollment that nevertheless fails to prevent them from staring directly into the camera lens at regular intervals.
Peggy Mount and Harry Secombe as Mrs. & Mr. Bumble
The harshness of Dickens' characters is leavened considerably by these roles assayed by comic actors  

Oliver! is one of my favorite period musicals. And by period, I mean the mid to late 1960s; that brief but prolific moment in time when movie theaters across the nation were full of the sound of music (as opposed to today, where all you hear coming from cineplexes is the whoosh of superhero capes). A time when movie studios, in hopes of unearthing another durable cash cow on the order of Julie Andrews’ nuns and Nazis romp, were falling over themselves buying up the film rights to any and all Broadway musicals. Sometimes before the shows had even opened. For example: the 1968 Burt Bacharach musical, Promises, Promises, a musical version of Billy Wilder's The Apartment, in spite of several stabs at treatments over the yearsone to which John Travolta was briefly attachednever did make it to the big screen.

In 1968 alone, Oliver! duked it out at the boxoffice against Funny Girl, Finian’s Rainbow, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Julie Andrews’ Star! (those exclamation points again…). All elephantine musicals of disparate merit, but each conceived as a roadshow attraction and each boasting studio-bankrupting budgets. Of that roster, only the twin Columbia Pictures releases Funny Girl and Oliver! emerged bonafide hits; Funny Girl besting Oliver! at the boxoffice, but Oliver! topping Funny Girl’s eight Oscar nominations with a whopping eleven, culminating in a 6-award sweep for that film, including Best Director and Best Picture. The latter bit sticking most in the craw of classic film fans.
The Artful Dodger welcomes Oliver into the fold in the rousing show-stopper "Consider Yourself"
The influence of Oliver! on musicals of the era can be seen in the films: Bedknobs & Broomsticks, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, Scrooge, Mr. Quilp, and of course, the aforementioned Annie

Although the recipient of near-unanimous praise on its release (even Pauline Kael gave it a rave), virtually no one happening upon Oliver! today seems able to fathom how a pleasant, inarguably professional, but decidedly old-school and unremarkable musical entertainment like Oliver! managed to walk off with Best Picture and Best Director awards in a year that featured both Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (a truly galling bit of trivia, as it wasn't even nominated).
While Rosemary's Baby gets my vote as Best Picture of 1968, If I had to stick to those nominated, Oliver! would actually be my personal choice. For what did we have?: The Lion in WinterPeter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn yelling for two hours; Funny Girlaka, the Streisand Show;  Rachel, RachelPaul Newman gives wife Joanne Woodward a 10th Anniversary present; Romeo & Juliet hippified, youthquake Shakespeare mitigated by codpieces.

The problem seems to be that although beloved by many, the passing of time hasn’t been particularly kind to Oliver!. So in failing to be embraced by the same cloak of nostalgic revisionism that came to redeem onetime kiddie-flops like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Chitty Chitty Bang BangOliver! tends to show up on “Least-deserved Best Picture Oscar winners” lists, unfairly lumped together with genuine head-scratchers like Shakespeare in Love and The Greatest Show on Earth.
Trouble in Mind
Notwithstanding the fact that I’m probably the only person ever to get all blubbery and teary-eyed upon just hearing the first notes of “I’d Do Anything” (hands-down favorite song in the entire score, everything about that number just floors me), Oliver! is mostly just a film I enjoy a great deal, not one whose themes resonate with me on some broader, deeper level (like Dickens’ A Christmas Carol). 
Apart from it being my absolute favorite screen adaptation of Oliver Twist ever, capturing the look and feel of Dickens in an appealingly light/dark storybook fashion, I just think Oliver! is one of those solid, wholly enjoyable, escapist movies that so successfully accomplishes what it sets out to do, and does so in a manner that makes it all look so effortless, I’m afraid it has become a victim of its virtues. It’s become too easy to take the skill, talent, and craft behind Oliver! for granted. Which is rather surprising given how comfortable we seem to have grown with musical mediocrity: i.e., the film adaptations of Nine, Dreamgirls, and Mamma Mia ! (there’s that punctuation again…).
Oliver! turns orphan Oliver Twist into something of a co-star in his own story, so my emotional involvement in the film has always been limited to Nancy's maternal concern for the boy and the lengths she goes to protect him. On that score, Shani Wallis' performance is a real standout.

Oliver! is far from a perfect film, and in a way, I fully get how people can admire it and respect it, yet still not find it to be their cup of tea (insert British joke here). I relate this to my own feelings about the film version of My Fair Lady, a perfectly wonderful musical of its kind, but one I can barely tolerate. If you're not already fond of musicals, Oliver! is one so traditional in form, content, and execution that it's unlikely to produce many converts. The opening scenes at the workhouse, stylized and theatrical, take some getting used to, and by the time they launch into the sing-songy title tune, non-fans are likely to be heading for the exits. The only part that drags for me is the ballad "As Long as He Needs Me," a song well-performed by Wallis, but so sung to death on variety shows during the '60s that all it inspires in me is a Pavlovian need to take a restroom break.
Hugh Griffith as The Magistrate

As is often the case with films, the best roles in Oliver! belong to the villains. Thus it’s hardly a surprise that Ron Moody’s Fagin and Jack Wild’s Artful Dodger were the performances singled out for Oscar nods. Personal favorite, 15-year-old Jack Wild, the real breakout star of Oliver!, is like a Cockney Cagney, commanding his scenes with an assurance and star quality that easily justified his short-lived tenure as a '70s preteen heartthrob and star of the preternaturally weird TV show, HR Pufnstuf.
As Yul Brenner so embodied the King of Siam in The King and I that thereafter, I could never picture anyone else in the role, such is true of Ron Moody's Fagin. His may not be the sinister character of the book (Alec Guinness' grotesque performance and makeup in David Lean's 1948 version of Oliver Twist may be closer to what Dickens had in mind, but I seriously can't even watch it) but Moody's hammy take on Fagin as a harmless, self-interested charlatan is more to my liking.
Beating out possible contenders Peter Sellers, Peter O'Toole, and (God help us) Dick Van Dyke, relative unknown Ron Moody had the opportunity to recreate the role he originated on the London stage

Oliver Reed (nephew of Oliver!'s director, Carol Reed) is unsurpassed at playing brooding heavies, and his Bill Sikes is no exemption. Indeed, to hear surviving cast members tell it, Oliver Reed was every bit the holy terror his reputation made him out to be during filming, “He got one of my dancers pregnant!” blurted out choreographer Onna White during a 1998 Oliver! screening Q & A when asked about whether or not Reed was "difficult.” 
Something that could never happen in today's all-access, Internet environment, for years Columbia Pictures was able to keep secret the fact that the angelic singing voice coming out of  9-year-old Mark Lester was actually that of 22-year-old Kathe Green, daughter of Oliver!'s Oscar-winning music arranger, Johnny Green.

It's as easy to see why sweet-faced Mark Lester (who readily concedes to being tone-deaf and uncoordinated) was cast, just as it's easy to overlook his understated contribution to the film. His is a reactive and sympathetic role, and on both fronts the appealingly natural actor triumphs by somehow not getting on everyone's nerves. If you think that's a small issue, check out the little boys cast as Patrick Dennis in Auntie Mame and Mame, sometime.

You'd have to have lived as long as I and bore witness to the gradual decline in all things musical and terpsichorean (don't get me started ... Rob Marshall/Glee/animated musicals) to understand the feelings of relief and gratitude which converge within me when I watch a film like Oliver!. What a miracle just to see a live-action musical that actually holds together! To have a cohesive plot that doesn't insult intelligence; tuneful songs staged and choreographed with variance (some intimate, some large-scale, some comedic) and innovation; actors who (by and large) can sing, dance AND act; British roles assayed by actual British actors; and, most importantly, a director with a cinematic eye who knows how to use film to tell a story.
I love Oliver!'s whimsical art direction and set design
Second-Act opener "Who Will Buy?": Probably one of the best large-scale choreographers of her day, Onna White (Bye Bye Birdie) pulls out the stops in Oliver!'s massive musical set pieces
Example of the amazing work by cinematographer Oswald Morris (The Wiz
 Jack Wild, Shani Wallis, Mark Lester, and Shelia White as Bet (Nancy's younger sister)
"I'd Do Anything" (above): a perfect example of a musical number that could have ground the film to a halt, but director Reed and choreographer Onna White keep it light and amusing while using it as a device to reveal character and relationships. The song is performed as an unwitting parody of the kind of life Oliver is actually born to, but beneath the lyrics of exaggerated romantic fealty and behind the spoofing of formal airs and graces, the characters are revealing their genuine familial attachment to one another. Nancy and Bet being the surrogate mothers, Fagin, the stern (but ultimately playful) father. We see the origin of Nancy's protectiveness toward Oliver (she sees right away that he's not like the others), and get to contrast this more humane communal environment for wayward boys with that of the government-run workhouses. The entire number is marvelously conceived and shot (check out how many camera angles they squeeze out of that small set), the song is adorable, and I can say it's honestly my favorite sequence in the entire movie.
A favorite unsung character in Oliver! is Bill Sikes' faithful dog, Bulls Eye 
Oliver Reed in Life magazine 1968: “Every actor knows better than to appear with animals or children, so here I am with a bloody dog and all these kids!” 

While I think I've made a pretty good case for Oliver!, cataloging its merits apropos my fondness for it, I’d be less than honest if I didn't also reveal that no small part of the soft spot I harbor for this film are tied to the nostalgia and sentiment I attach to the time, place, and circumstances by which I first came to know of it.
Oliver! premiered as part of a Christmas season roadshow/reserved ticket engagement at San Francisco’s Alexandria Theater in 1968, but as there were five of us in our household and therefore too pricey, we had to wait a few months later when it opened wide (“At popular prices!”), sans overture, intermission, and exit music. It played for weeks at my beloved Embassy Theater on Market Street – site of so many of my fondest early moviegoing memories – and I returned every weekend. I think I saw Oliver! about six times. But the best thing about seeing Oliver! for the first time was that my mom went with us.
My mom and dad were divorced at the time and my mom was several years from meeting my stepfather-to-be, so as a single, working mother of four, she counted on me and my three sisters going to the movies on Saturdays as a way to get a little peace and quiet around the house. However, on this occasion we managed to talk her into going with us, and I'll never forget how much fun it was seeing her lose herself in the movie. She was smiling, laughing, and in general acting just like one of us. My mother loved musicals (one of my sisters is named after June Allyson) and if you could have seen her that day you'd have sworn she'd transformed into a teenager right before your eyes. At one point during the "Consider Yourself" number I thought someone had kicked my seat, only to soon realize that the entire row was moving due to my mom bouncing in her seat and tapping along with the rhythm! One of my happiest memories of that day is the picture I have of my hardworking motherseen out of the corner of my eyesoftly singing along with the music, looking like the happiest little girl in the world. 

Sadly, my mom passed away just last year this month, and in knowing that Oliver! was one of her favorite movies, I guess I can't help but associate it with very happy memories.  

Childhood ain't what it used to be.

You can read about the sad circumstances of the late Jack Wild's adult life online. Take a look at this interview from 2002 (he passed away in 2006) in which he talks about his career and Oliver! YouTube

See Jack Wild sing "Pronouns" from the TV program H.R. Pufnstuf 

Mark Lester kept a pretty low profile in his post-Oliver! days (he's an osteopath now) only to emerge from obscurity in 2013 alleging to be the sperm-donor father of Michael Jackson's kids (!!!) HERE

Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2014


  1. Perfect... Thank you so much Ken. Can't say I agree on the movie, but understanding the emotion and how this became special is where I got on board. For you it was Oliver! for me and I think my other siblings it is Show Boat at the Powell Street movie theater with our father. You made me cry: thank you for the beautiful piece. Now this, "big, gooey, sloppy sentimentalist of the highest order," will await your next offering.

    1. Thank YOU, Cathy!
      It certainly wasn't my intention to make anyone cry, but I love that it perhaps stirred memories of the time you spent at the Powell theater (I'd forgotten about that!) with your father.
      In speaking to friends, it's amazing to me what a strong impression it makes on a child to see their parents happy or engaged in a fun pursuit. Parents during my era were such authority figures and breadwinners, it was a rare delight to see them carefree and joyous. You never forget it.
      Thanks for commenting!

    2. When children get to see their parents as humans, enjoying things like we do, it's special. Shedding a couple of tears as a result of happy memories are never a bad thing and especially great when a writer can take you there.

      In reading your response to Peter...too true, the legacy of musicals in our youth and the way they were respected/treated in theaters compared to 'hitting' movies now.

  2. "Oliver!" -- I saw it as a kid (I was six) and probably still have the souvenir program: I must have read that a thousand times. I saw all the big musicals when I was a kid -- Camelot, Sound of Music, Dr. Doolittle, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Funny Girl, Hello Dolly, Darling Lili, Mame... -- and I remember loving "Oliver!" I don't think I've seen it since 1968 (maybe once on TV) but I have such vivid memories of that dance Fagin's gang did with the umbrellas (Consider Yourself?). I still twirl my umbrella and do a cakewalk behind it whenever it rains!

    I've placed a hold on this at the library (as is my wont) so maybe I'll check in later with updated insights. Great review as always!

    1. Hey, I had one of those souvenir programs, too! I wonder what happened to it...?
      Very cool that you got to see all of those big musicals at the theater when you were so young. A nicer legacy for a child's imagination than all that superhero aggression now, or all these animated cars and planes in movies now.
      That number with the umbrellas is "I'd do anything," and the clever use of them to create a human carriage and horses is one of my strong memories as well.
      i hope you enjoy seeing "Oliver!" again after so many years. I think its charms are rather subjective...sort of like that line in "The Prime of Miss jean Brodie" : "For those who like that sort of thing, that is the thing they like." That's certainly true of me in this case. Thanks, Peter!

  3. Dear Ken - Oh, how I can relate...the way you describe OLIVER! is the way I hold CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG close to my heart - my parents patiently took this (then) 6 year old to see it 6 or 7 times after it opened "wide". Very lovely and sentimental feelings for it - besides, it's such a beautiful film! I hope you'll do an article on it!

    OLIVER! is a *beautiful* film. As you said, I don't get why today it seems to be one of the almost-forgotten of the 60s musicals. It was HUGE when it opened Even with the show being done constantly in HS, community theaters, etc - the movie is hardly ever discussed. I agree with you 100% on the depth of the performances, the beauty and detail of the sets, and the choreography.

    Love your site, keep 'em coming! Mike

  4. Hi Michael
    Wow! I thought I was the ONLY one who saw "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" that many times. For a 6-year-old the film must have seemed especially magical. I loved it then and even more now since I introduced it to my partner and he fell in love with the wittiness of the "Chu chi face" number. I play it sometimes in class and it always makes him crack up (although next to no one in the class is familiar with it). I really do plan on writing about the film one day.

    And all you say about "Oliver!" being almost forgotten is quite true and puzzling. I have a few notions of my own, but I would love to know why "Oliver!" has been one of those films that just didn't build momentum with new generations like some children's films have.
    So pleased you enjoy the blog and that you shared your similar childhood sentiments about Chiltty Chitty Bang Bang. Thanks!

  5. Bonjour Michael,
    Thanks for a great post.
    I only saw Oliver! for the fist time a couple of years ago, I was full of preconceptions about it and thought it would be an overblown late studio production. How wrong was I. I loved it and wished I had seen it much earlier. Such an imaginative choreography, such a use of wide screen, so many catchy tunes. And Oliver Reed. Only one bad note: Mark Lester is awful and could easily have had the whole film collapse had it not been for the incredible amount talent that he's surrounded with. I wondered if Reed did not realize the kid couldn't act: it's interesting to notice how much time Lester spends watching what's going on around him (usually with an artificial grin on his face) rather than participate in it. Just saying.
    Your remark on exclamation marks in musical titles had me dream about how more grand and dramatic movie titles would be if they were all around. Picture this: Children of Paradise! The Red Shoes! L'Avventura! The Misfits! Gravity!

  6. Hi Tom! (I hope I'm not hijcking a comment you actually intended for Michael Whelan, but I'm gonna do it anyway) :-)
    It's great that you happened upon this film so recently and that you enjoyed so many of the same things I loved about it decades ago. It proves it holds up a bit.
    I of course laughed at your comments about Mark Lester because although I really like his his look for the role, in interviews he's about making the film as an adult, he readily admits to not fully understanding why he was cast over so many boys who could sing, dance, and had more acting experience. He feels he was cast because Reed liked something about his look (frail, pale, and very different from the boys cast as Fagin's pickpockets).
    I suspect you are absolutely right in director Carol Reed sort of "protecting" Lester's performance (and his film) by having him be largely silent and reactive. That's a nice thing for you to pick up on.
    My favorite part of your comment is the suggestion that perhaps all titles should have exclamation points. that is brilliant and I reverse my opinion on the pesky punctuation in that case. My personal faves would be: Sophie's Choice! or Klute!

    Thanks for a great comment and for reading me from so afar!

  7. Your emotional recollections about this movie resonate with me, too. Not so much with "Oliver!" as with other movies. For example, I recall curling up and watching "Madame X" on TV (God only knows how awful the print was) with my mom and her crying at the end or seeing her smile broadly during certain moments of "9 to 5" when we went to see that. It's a whole other subject as to how the escapism of movies corresponds to the glimmers of happiness and relief or other emotions that see in each other while viewing and how THOSE stick with us just as much as the movie. It helps us to understand, too, why the movie business was one of the industries that suffered the least during The Great Depression. I could probably go on and on about this phenomena and am glad that you illustrated it in this post in the articulate way that you do so well.

    As for "Oliver!," I can say that "Who Will Buy" helped to cement a love in me for all such big production numbers with all the people coming out and joining in (think "Put On Your Sunday Clothes," "June is Bustin' Out All Over," "I Think I'm Gonna Like it Here" and so on...) I even recall something (obviously on a far smaller scale) happening in Angela Lansbury's "Mrs. Santa Claus" called "Avenue A" with various street peddlers dancing and singing ebulliently. I'm a sucker for that stuff. Both Oliver Reed and Ron Moody petrified me as a kid, but I was always afraid of everything.

    Not to yammer on and on about myself, but I think there was always a bit of Oliver in me in that I felt misplaced. Surely a glamorous and elegant person like myself didn't belong in a one-bedroom house in a lower-middle-class neighborhood! LOL I've been trying to keep an eye peeled for my own Mr. Brownlow all along, while simultaneously reinventing my life the best I can!

    1. Hi Poseidon!
      You are so right about what is magical in films. It's not always just our own experience, but sometimes the shared experience of watching films with friends (or strangers for that matter. My fondest memories of Mae West's "Sextette" involve the theater full of howling strangers that made that absolutely loony film seem even more hilarious than it was).
      Your "Madame X" and "9 to 5" memories are just the kind of thing that make movies active "experiences" and part of your life, not time-killers.
      (I've never understood people who say things like, "I've got a couple of hours to kill, I think I'll go see a movie," what a waste of magic.)

      And yes, there is something about large-scale musical numbers that build upon themselves. In their execution they have the possibility of conveying a sense of joy like no other.

      One of the puzzling things about "Oliver!" for me is the very point you bring up about identifying with him. I think a lot of children's movies resonate with kids (especially gay kids) precisely for that shared youthful phenomenon of always feeling as if one is out-of-step with the rest (Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," Charlie in "Willie Wonka", etc). As much as I like "Oliver!" I have never been able to weed through why exactly I never connected with Oliver. Perhaps, as Tom Peeping from France indicated, it's due to Mark Lester's limitations as an actor. I'm not sure.
      By the way, should you ever write your memoirs, "Searching for Mr. Brownlow" would make a wonderful title.
      Thanks, Poseidon for sharing your own special memories of movie-watching with a loved one.

  8. Oh Ken. How did I know you would love Oliver!? Thank you for not falling into the usual "picture that shouldn't have won Best Picture" crap that most writers do with this film.

    How do I love Oliver!? Let me count the ways. No one else has ever assayed Bill Sikes the way Reed did. Maybe he lived it so he played it best? They did a PBS remake a few years back, and Tom Hardy was a pale imitation. I won't even go into the Roman Polanski version from 2005 - maybe Polanski thought he could do it better after being cheated for Rosemary's Baby?

    I tried to make the hashtag #JackWildRealness happen this year, that's how much I love Oliver!. Wild's tragic death saddens me to this day. I can't take my eyes off him in this film.

    I love Oliver! so much that when I had my wisdom teeth out, and was high on laughing gas, I proceeded to sing "Consider Yourself" in the dentist's chair. There was a prison inmate in chains getting a procedure at the same office, and they brought her in to listen to me.

    And "I'd Do Anything" makes me cry, too.

    I rest my case.


    1. Hi Tanya
      Your expressed sentimental attachment to "Oliver!" is so beautifully expressed and very touching. I actually think you trump my affection for this film with your dentist chair/prison inmate serenade, which is priceless.
      Like you, I have yet to come across an adaptation of Oliver Twist that measures up to Carol Reed's film and the performances his talented cast delivers (Polanski's reminded me of one of those things intended for showing to English classes after they have completed reading the book). And for me, Oliver Reed IS Bill Sikes and always will be.
      What always gets me about Jack Wild in this movie is that while Ron Moody imbues Fagin with so much eccentric comical fussiness, Wild's Artful Dodger still upstages him by being such a fully embodied character. As you say, you can't take your eyes off of him!
      And have I at last found someone who gets waterworks during "I'd Do Anything"? just love that song! The simple melody and call-response lyrics have always put me in the mind of a lullaby sung by a parent to a child. Thanks so much, Tanya!

    2. Dear Ken - thank you for your nice reply! LOVE all these comments! I do believe OLIVER! deserved the Oscar, or at the very least, the nomination. It was just so beautifully made.
      Ken, you mentioned "I'd Do Anything" as an emotional moment for you. I do know what you mean! I get that way at the point where they cut loose and start polka-ing....and the other moment in OLIVER! that electrifies me is that moment in "Who Will Buy" when, right after the girls get dunked in the pond, the camera "sweeps" over the square and you see all the various groups doing their own choreography. Wow!
      What a lovely memory of your mother watching OLIVER! I love moments like that to this day when I share something I love with my parents!

    3. I must say I have to agree with you about the comments, I've been so entertained by what you all have been sharing about your own personal movie favorites.
      I took another quick look at my DVD to see what you referred to in the "Who Will Buy" number, and in doing so, I had the kind of experience I hope to inspire with this blog: your pointing out something I hadn't noticed made a familiar experience seem fresh! That is indeed a wonderful swooping shot, and it made me remember what it was like seeing it on a big screen. A goosebump moment!
      That scene and the moment when they break into polkas during "I'd do Anything" is at the crux of this blog's name.
      I've always loved film's ability to grab some part of us with some fleeting bit of magic. It often feels as if it is something we alone experience, but when talked about in a forum like this, you realize that others find "the stuff that dreams are made of" in similar ways.
      I always get a kick out of enthusiastic film fans, and you sound like one. Thanks, Michael!

    4. The casting of Tom Hardy wasn't nearly as wierd as the casting of Timothy Spall, who potrayed Fagin as if he was an Eastern European immigrant (Ukraine or another Russian Federation country).

    5. So I'd Do Anything make you cry does it Tanya.

      Well the movie adaptation of Sunshine on Leith may give you those same waterworks during the first half of I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles). It's performed as an I'd Do Anythingesque ballad.

      Type in 500 miles Sunshine on Leith on Youtube and you'll see what I mean when I say the first half is like a ballad.

  9. Ken, I really, really need to watch this one again. I have been one of those people who considered this a slow, lumbering and elephantine production with poor choreography and a badly arranged score devoid of energy or joie de vivre. I did think the film captured the dark Dickensian spirit of the book, which I believe was the filmmaker's intention. And props to Ron Moody (brilliant), Jack Wild (adored him on PufNStuff) and Mark Lester (so angelic) for their standout performances.

    I think the main reason for my prejudice was that I did not see this film until I was a teenager, just after I had spent six months doing this show night after night at a local dinner theatre. I remember rehearsing and practicing all the songs from the original cast album; our company used the original orchestrations for the stage. So Oliver! was a movie I could not tap my feet to or sing along with easily. The musical pacing was so much slower than on the stage. (Maybe this is why you can't stand As Long As He Needs Me; listen to Georgia Brown on the original cast album and you may change your mind.)

    But your review makes me want to give the film one more chance. Recently, after boycotting Hello, Dolly for decades, I happened to see it again and was charmed and delighted. I am now so glad Gene Kelly and company captured this great musical for posterity to punctuate the end of the golden age of movie musicals.

    Thanks, Ken, for your is, as always, contagious!

    1. Hi Chris
      I tend to have similar experiences with musicals. Depending on which format I'm exposed to a production first, I can be VERY impatient with subsequent adaptations.
      I sometimes wonder if my dislike for the movie version of “Grease” is based on the fact that I was involved in my school’s production of it, loved the OBC album, and saw it on stage first. My impression of the film version would be a word-for-word copy of what you felt about "Oliver!"
      Hmmm...I hope this doesn't mean I should give "Grease" another chance, I don't think I could take it. :-)
      I do know that time has this weird way of mellowing responses to movies that once left you cold, but I wouldn't be in too much of a hurry to abandon what you think of this film. it might just be one of those movies that doesn't do it for you.
      People have tried to get me to reconsider "At Long Last Love" but even in Blu-ray I can't get past my problems with it.
      Thanks for visiting again, Chris! From one passionate film fan to another!

  10. Ken (I want to include an exclamation point here) What a lovely post and cheers to your mother for being so instrumental in your early movie going experiences. My mother was the same way, although she leaned more toward the Corman/Poe pictures than musicals. "Oliver" is one of those snowy movies I always re-watch come December along with "Scrooge" and "Doctor Zhivago" and even "You'll Like My Mother." I just love movie weather and as for Zhivago I had no idea what was happening when I first saw it but I was completely swept away by it--and it didn't hurt that I first saw it during Christmas vacation (with bag of cookies my mother made to take with me). I'm also a sucker for late 60s musicals, and how and why so many of them went wrong. I've only missed seeing two: "The Great Waltz" and Song of Norway." And I still have my "Oliver" movie program. Thank goodness we saw it at a movie palace in the "big city" (Toledo). Thanks again Ken for bringing back a flood of memories.

    1. Hi Max! (I thought you wouldn't mind the exclamation point)
      Glad you liked the post. Have to say i really loved reading yours as well. In fact, I'm quite beside myself in enjoying the tales people like you have been sharing about their own similar experiences with different films.
      Such a kick imagining your mom being a pan of those Roger Corman, Vincent Price type films! How cool a mom is that?
      And I can so relate to your responding to weather in movies. Something I've myself experienced but can't recall anyone ever commenting upon (for me, it was the weather in the movie musical "Paint Your Wagon" ...a horrible film [to me] but the shots of the mountains in "They call the Wind Maria" literally made me shiver as a child.
      I never saw "Doctor Zhivago" on the big screen, but like you, I'm sure I would have loved all that soviet snow, even without understanding a single thing about the film itself. And of course, I love the cookies bit.
      And you still have your "Oliver!" program...(jealous!)

      Filmmakers should read all of these comments. A reminder of what movies are for people. Hollywood all too often acts as if they are making a product; you guys confirm that they really have the potential to make dreams and memories.
      Wonderful contribution, Max. thanks!

    2. That's an interesting theory of yours that Oliver! is something of a snowy movie. It certainally felt more snowy than everything Michael Bay ever directed (albiet that isn't hard since Michael Bay films are usually set in an exotic summer-like Miami).

  11. "Oliver!" even influenced a comedy-remember "Monty Python's Meaning of Life?"

    1. Ha! Even though I saw the film when it came out, I absolutely forgot this clever, irreverent, thoroughly Montty Python-eque number! Thanks for jogging my memory.
      I found a clip of it on YouTube. (Warning: remember folks, it's Monty Python)

  12. I enjoyed reading your review of "Oliver!", a film I have yet to see. You covered all aspects of how the film being both an entertaining family musical and an undeserved Academy Award Winner, while still being miles better than later musical attempts. I have believed what those "Worst Oscar winner for best film" lists have said and until now I thought it was a mediocre film. After reading your review I hope to see it one day or find the soundtrack on vinyl.

    I love "On a Clear Day You can See Forever" and I can tell parts of it tries to recreate a Dickensian atmosphere. It was nice to read about how your mother enjoyed watching the film with your siblings too! It would be great if you could review that other exclamation point musciacl "Star!" one day.
    Thanks, Wille

    1. Hi Wille
      Yes, I hope you glean from my post that I while i don't agree, I do indeed understand how "Oliver!" might not be to everyone's lining. I think it is a quality film (well-made, professional), but after that, it's purely a matter of personal taste.
      The orphanage scenes from "On a Clear Day" seem such an intentional homage to "Oliver!" that they make me smile. I hope you get to see this film for yourself sometime (your're a vinyl fan?) and I am sure to cover "Star!" sometime in the future. Julie Andrews is really underrepresented on this blog!
      Thanks Wille!

  13. STAR! is a film that is flawed (the script is choppy in that it doesn't seem to have a real "plot" - just scenes of Gertie's life in between musical numbers) - but it's also very entertaining and Julie is amazing. Quite a performance!! Gee, Ken, this article prompted A LOT of happy and fun comments about our appreciation of late 60s musicals!! :)

    1. Ha! Yes, I've really enjoyed hearing from readers on this one. I like that people are allowing for the emotional enjoyment of a film without necessarily needing to equate it with the actual quality of the film. It's practically my motto that a film one enjoys doesn't have to be a "good" film.
      As for "Star!", I think I'm going to reserve my opinion until I get around to writing about it, but I so know what you mean about the plot and entertainment value. i recall so much hype about it when it came out, then it practically disappeared overnight!

  14. Another beauty from the late 60s - HALF A SIXPENCE, very sadly overlooked by the general public's recollection. I think I'm actually one of the very few that LOVE it.

    1. Funny you should mention that film. I never saw even a frame from it all these years, but just last year I managed to get a copy of the soundtrack album which I liked. All I've seen of it is the "What a Picture" number on YouTube, which was pretty fun. I'm not too keen on Tommy Steel, but I hope to check this movie out someday. Thanks for bringing it up...a real forgotten one!

  15. Ken, I just watched "Oliver! again -- I don't think I'd seen it since its original release (maybe just clips here and there). It had its moments but I didn't find it transcendent. I think the movie is as good as it could have been given the material. It's just hard to turn grinding 19th Century London child poverty into a razzmatazz Broadway musical. The show has too many show-biz-y moppets (those kids in the workhouse looked especially wholesome) and self-conscious "Big Showstopper" moments and reprises. The production is SO lavish, even the grime is glamorous, that I just stopped caring about the story. I liked the performers, though -- all of them.

    I had an epiphany that Mark Lester is essentially an 8-year-old, male Audrey Hepburn: even his line readings sound Audrey-infused, and he has the same to-the-manor-born bearing. Maybe that's what I find offensive about this movie (as well as the novel, which I read 40 years ago) -- that if you're genetically upper class you stand out regardless of whether or not you were raised in a workhouse, and eventually you'll be returned to your rightful place in the social order.

    I found the climactic ending very exciting and well-staged, but overall the movie lagged for me in the second half. It also took about 1/2 hour to really get going (when we first meet the Artful Dodger) -- not to mention those endless opening credits. I could have done without Fagin's "Reviewing the Situation" -- along with the reprise. For me, the momentum of the story just stopped at that point, for what felt like an endless a star turn.

    My biggest problem, though, were the big group musical numbers and the Oona White choreography. How many pirouetting butchers and acrobatic street sweepers can you cram into a movie? Having recently seen both "The Music Man" and "Mame," the choregraphy in "Oliver!" started to feel like an Oona White parody -- particularly "Who Will Buy?" which totally didn't work for me (and, like "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," in "My Fair Lady," we're supposed to believe that working class Londoners are all cheerful and full of pep. The set for that number also looked too sterile and bland, in contrast to the grimy slum sets, which were so well designed and beautifully photographed.

    In the end, the whole thing felt schizophrenic: at times slapstick and meant for kids, at other times genuinely terrifying, like that shot of Bill Sykes hanging dead from rope. Still, the production values were excellent, the orchestrations lush, the costumes beautiful, and the casting first-rate. You could do a whole lot worse than "Oliver!"

    1. Hi Peter
      Thanks for the update. that was fast!
      I'm sorry it wasn't a better experience for you, but it was interesting to read your thoughts and impressions on revisiting the film after so many years. Especially in light of my having re-watched it again after posting it and finding myself seeing new things through the eyes of some of the folks that have commented. It's seems even better!

      I laughed at your rather spot-on comment that there is a bit of an Audrey Hepburn quality about Mark Lester. That is VERY perceptive, I think. As soon as I read it my mind went to that moment when he first sees the Artful Dodger on the street. he is leaning against the railing with his head cocked to the side...and lo and behold I could see Audrey Hepburn.

      I always get a kick out of reading how different a film I like very much can appear to someone else. It's the closest thing one gets to an empathetic experience and it proves very eye opening as to the broad spectrum of differing experience within one 2 1/2 hour time frame.
      Flattered you were inspired to see the film again on the strength of this post, and glad you returned to recount your experience in such an entertaining fashion. A great contribution to this comments section, which has sort of turned into a collaborative, ancillary post. Thanks, Peter!

  16. Ken, I share your aversion to exclamation points in film titles (exception: when the exclamation point doesn't rest at the end of the title, e.g. Roger Corman's "Gas! or It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It". I also found Wham! to be an incredibly idiotic name for a music group, simply due to the exclamation point at the end. It suggests the name is to be yelled rather than said at regular volume. The again, Wham! was pretty idiotic all around.

    Growing up in the 1980s, "Oliver!" (damn that exclamation point!) was still very much in vogue--teachers at school would play the movie for us. I understand its appeal, but the fact this trumped "2001: A Space Odyssey" for the Best Picture Oscar ("2001" wasn't even nominated!) is mind-boggling to say the least (and of course, "Romeo and Juliet" shouldn't have been there). Then again, I don't think the two can be compared, and whereas "Oliver!" was already considered timeless in 1968, "2001: A Space Odyssey" was ahead of its time. It's been many, many years since I've seen "Oliver!", so I'll have to give this one another look--it still sometimes plays at the Astor Theatre.

    1. You're right about "2001: A Space Odyssey" kind of growing into its reputation. It was fairly confounding to audiences and critics alike back in 1968.
      I kind of wish "Oliver!" were performed more at schools today. In every dance studio I've ever worked, "Annie" has taken the crown (it makes sense from a practical standpoint, as little girls outnumber little boys in dance classes fifteen to one) but I'm soooo weary of "Hard Knock Life."
      Something tells me that for whatever reason, "Oliver!" will never enjoy the kind of resurgence of some kids' films from the past, but it certainly holds up for me.

  17. I could definetly see the Bedknobs & Broomsticks reference. I could have sworn that the Portobello Road number was pushing Oliver! shaped buttons, not that Disney intended on that.

    All that was different was Angela Lansbury and the posh guy from Mary Poppins filling in for Mark Lester and Jack Wild.

    1. "Posh guy from Mary Poppins" that!

    2. Of course the irony of that one is that Ron Moody was one of the original choices following his turn as Fagin. Due to his busy schedule it ended up going to David Tomlinson aka the posh guy from MP

    3. Didn't know Moody was an early choice for "B & B"! He would have been interesting.

  18. I think Oliver works because it was one of the few musicals that wasn't romantic (as most musicals were in that period). It was predominantly men who got fed up of these "saccarine" musicals and as a result most of the musical bombs were romances or kidpics.

    It took the darker Caberet and the high school set Grease to reinvent the musical genre for different audiences. Caberet gave birth to Chicago, Moulin Rouge, Sweeney Todd and their ilk while Grease gave birth to Mamma Mia, Enchanted, the HSM franchise and Pitch Perfect

    1. That's a great point about "Oliver!" not being a romance! I know that as a kid I always got restless when the romantic element was introduced in a always signaled goopy ballads and a general slowing down of the action. That's why I avoided "Camelot" until I was an adult (wish I hadn't....I love that film).

  19. Another musical that reinvented the genre came from an unlikely source South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut which unlike many musicals before, pushed the envelope of taste to the possible limit that would later lead to Team America: World Police.

    The only downside could be that South Park and Team America could give birth to something really stupid, in the same way that Scream gave birth to I Know What You Did Last Summer and all those non-ironic slasher movies. In the same way that Animal House gave birth to the likes of Porky's and Revenge of the Nerds. In the same way that Oliver! gave birth to the the inferior Annie.

    1. An interesting point about how musicals as a genre have morphed over the years, adjusting to changing tastes and following trends! As you point out, sometimes it's good, frequently it's not.

  20. Argyle here. I composed a roughly 2000 word comment but decided that was crazy, so here is my much condensed version:

    - Saw the road show in ‘68 when grandfather wanted to get us out of our mom’s hair for the afternoon. Sisters liked it; I took years to recover. Only recently re-watched on TCM.

    - For me at 10 years old, it was an all encompassing work of art.

    - Major struggle to buy the soundtrack, my first album.

    - Simultaneously discovered Reader’s Digest Best Loved Books for Young Readers version of “Oliver Twist.” Initiation into the classics.

    - Think Carol Reed is responsible for the utterly confident tone that makes it so easy to watch. Love his “the Fallen Idol” also from the point of view of a child. Love David Lean’s Dickens films, too.

    - Soundtrack Part 2: misunderstanding with neighbor results in having to listen to and feign enjoyment of tedious album by contemporary pop singer Oliver.

    - Still love “Boy for Sale” and “It’s a Fine Life” and Ron Moody’s business-y but compelling performance. Now realize how sad “Where is Love?” is.

    - Was stunned by echos of Michael Jackson/Blanket balcony episode in climactic Bill Sikes/Oliver moment. Still pondering.

    Thanks, Ken! Always reading. Best commentariat anywhere!

    1. Hi Argyle
      Ha! A 2000-word comment?! I am thrilled this post stirred so many memories and thoughts on this film! Your condensed version offers much to enjoy, however. Especially the well-intentioned mix-up regrading the "Oliver" album! I dare say only those of our generation would even get that!
      Envy that you saw the roadshow version. No wonder you wanted to read it and get the soundtrack album.
      I agree with you about Carol Reed's influence, and indeed I suspect that when Ra Stark hired John Huston to direct "Annie" so many years later, there was the desire that, like in this film, a director of dramas would bring a something to the non-musical scenes. It didn't really pan out there, but here I think it works beautifully.
      Lastly, the Michael Jackson balcony thing...a hoot!
      Thank you again for sharing your movie memories here. So often they parallel memories of my own.

  21. The casting of Peter Sellers would have had raised eyebrows, he co-fronted a comedy sketch show on British telly called The Goon Show with Harry "Mr Bumble" Secombe. Harry was also one of Britain's prime-time entertainers of his day much like Ant & Dec are now.

  22. Hi Ken,
    Read your take on this with a great deal of interest since you pointed out so many positives of the picture. You're fonder of it than I am although I like the film.

    I re-watched it recently after seeing a stage production and having not seen the film in years I was curious how they matched one to the other. As it turned out they were very similar but my memory turned out to be faulty from my original viewing. There were two things that I was wildly off on in my recollection. The first was the song "Who Will Buy". Probably since I was a kid the first time and ever since the only version I was familiar with was Barbra Streisand's plaintive take on it I was sure it was a solo for Nancy and having something to do with her selling herself! As I said quite wrong but both interpretations would work. Speaking of Nancy that's my other misconception, I would have sworn that it was Sally Ann Howes who played that part, I must have seen this and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at about the same time, Shani Wallis is an excellent Nancy though.

    It did come along at that odd time when Hollywood was starting to lose the ability to make solid musicals and fell victim to elephantitis. Most of the great 40's musicals, Show Boat, Singin' in the Rain etc. clocked in well under the two hour mark. For some reason every single one in the 60's had to be in excess of two hours and filled with bloat. Even ones that I love, Funny Girl, Star! and The Sound of Music among others, suffer from overproduction which though professional & attractive could have been streamlined without hurting the films. Oliver! suffers with similar problems but both the songs and the cast put it over. Also as you said it possesses a craftsmenship that just isn't put forth nowadays when most big films have the feeling of video games in their imagery and mediocrity is considered good enough. The film has a sunny attitude for the most part despite the often harsh conditions the characters find themselves in, I think that mode of musical was more or less swept away by Cabaret and its grimy reach for realism. Ever since with few exceptions this kind of happy mood is frowned upon and things must be gritty and true to life, the latest version of Les Miz which I hated and turned off after about 45 minutes is a prime example. It's a movie damn it! I want to be entertained.

    I think part of the blame is the loss of a collective songbook that the general population listens too. As you said you were sick of "As Long As He Needs Me" because of its ubiquity but music is so fragmented now and sadly melody seems to have become a dirty word that most musicals don't have that as a drawing card any longer. Along with cynicism being so prevalent that love songs are almost sneered at and it's next to impossible to have a successful musical without romantic underpinnings. Add into that the awful habit of casting non singing actors in roles that require a command of tone and phrasing as well as acting ability and it's little wonder of the current state of musicals. To return to Les Miserables-Hugh Jackman performed ably but was the only one capable of sustaining both the acting and singing requirements, Russell Crowe gave it the old college try but he just doesn't possess the skills needed and don't get me started on Anne Hathaway. Also the trend of singing the entire text to me is terribly draining. You have no time to appreciate the music if its constantly being thrown at you without let up.

    1. hi Joel
      Have yet to see "Les Miz" (not sure if I will), but I have to agree with you about the change in music and the attendant need for musicals to tone down the cheeriness and focus on gloom. All your points are very well taken. By the way, your misconceived recollections were pretty amusing!

    2. Don't worry Joel. Sunshine on Leith will brighten you up (Think Mamma Mia but more heartwarming and without the A-Listers making asses of themselves).

  23. Back to Oliver! It is often assailed for its Best Picture win and while it wouldn't have been my pick it certainly doesn't belong in that group of turkeys: Around the World in 80 Days, Cimarron, Chariots of Fire, Braveheart and Crash that have aged so badly.

    Much as I love Funny Girl it is the Streisand show with an able assist from Kay Medford, similarly Joanne Woodward is great in Rachel, Rachel but the film doesn't belong in competition and Romeo & Juliet is all pretty people in pretty settings at a glacial pace. My vote goes to The Lion in Winter. True Kate and Peter shout at each other a great deal but it has wonderfully complex dialogue that keeps you involved throughout its running time, a great supporting cast and two legends at the top of their craft. To me it's the only one of Hepburn's winning roles that deserved the award. She was worthy for Long Day's Journey Into Night but at least she lost that one to the equally worthy Anne Bancroft.

    That's a terrific story of seeing the film for the first time with your Mom, ( I loved the little squib about seeing it "at popular prices!") those kind of experiences do have a way of imprinting themselves on your memory. Whenever I watch The Sound of Music I remember my sister and I begging my mother to take us, she has never been a regular movie goer and it took both of us teaming up on her to get her to go. Of course the day she promised to take us it was pouring rain but she kept her word and I remember sitting in a packed theatre of soaking wet people with the rain hitting the roof so hard that it obscured the dialogue from time to time. Loved the movie but after finally drying out during the film we got sopping wet on the way back to the car, fortunately my mother thought it was funny and so wet and all it was a good time!
    Also that's cool that your sister is named after June Allyson. When I read Faye Dunaway's bio she mentioned that she had a cousin named Linda Darnell Cotton and of course the millions of little, now older, Shirleys running around thanks to Miss Temple. That's a habit that seems to have faded now that stars don't have such distinct personalities, it's movie character names that seem to catch on.

    Thanks as always for the entertaining recap of an old treasure.

    1. Great story about seeing "Sound of Music" with your mom and sister!
      Also, Even though I'm glad it didn't win best Picture I really am a big fan of "The Lion in Winter" as well...I've seen it sooo many times. Just being more glib about its drawbacks than really taking serious stock. It has great dialog!
      Thanks for always stopping by and contributing thoughtful posts, Joel!

  24. Thank you for celebrating OLIVER! I have such a fondness for this film and I have grown weary of seeing it dismissed over the years by snarky cynics. I certainly prefer it to that hokey bit of hot air called THE LION IN WINTER. I would have handed the Oscar for best supporting actor that year to Jack Wild - may he R.I.P.

    1. So many "Oliver!" fans! Who knew? Also, I too would have awarded Jack Wild the Oscar. Jack Albertson in "the Subject Was Roses" was fine, but his performance has paled for me over the years, while Jack Wild's actually looks better each time i see the movie. Thanks for commenting!

    2. Some might argue it was Gene Wilder's to lose that year. Gene Wilder was also nominated that year for The Producers (The original not the Will Ferrell remake obviously).

  25. I think the only reason people got snobby about Oliver! at the time was that it came out at a time when people wanted cooler films with attitude.

    Ironically in an age of giant robots, superheroes, teen fiction and rowdy obnoxious comedies, I'd imagine that like people like yourself were glad a movie as angelic as Oliver! came about when it did.

    UK critic Mark Kermode (look him up on youtube) has openly opinioned his hatred of the Transformers franchise in particular. Like you he has a soft spot for a family musical from the 1960s

    1. Trends in general are always problematic because public taste tends to want to throw out EVERYTHING that's old to make way for the new. In the process, some very value, albeit old-fashioned films are looked down upon because they are not "innovative", ignoring the fact that they might just be exceptionally well made films of unremarkable historic importance.
      Oliver! is certainly not a film that moved cinema into new horizons, but as you take note of, in our current climate of formulaic corporate franchises, a solid bit of sweet-natured filmmaking like Oliver! looks almost revolutionary! Thanks for commenting and bringing up an interesting point.

    2. Most of these "formulaic corporate franchises" only exist for product placement reasons such as the Iron Man films blatent advertising for Audi and Burger King among others. By contrast the only product placement in Oliver! (if one can call it product placement) was St Paul's Cathedral and even that was only in the background of the Be Back Soon number.

  26. Oliver!'s Oscar win was supposedly huge upset The alledged frontfunners were The Lion in Winter and Funny Girl.

    Dare I point out thet Oliver! did beat Funny Girl at the Golden Globes prior (The only Globe Funny Girl won was Barbara Striesand, the other 2 comedy categories were cleaned up by Ron Moody's performance and Oliver! itself).

    I have a subtle joke that the only reason Katherine Hepburn and Barbara Striesand tied for Best Actress was because Shani Wallis wasn't nominated to rain on their parade.

    I guess the joke you can insert here is that "Oliver!, Oliver!" was allowed to "Rain on my (Funny Girl's) Parade"

    1. Thank you for pointing all that out. I think it's hard to put these things in historical perspective (few were around to recall what were the odds-on favorites or frontrunners). I think people today can't imagine what a surprise Oliver was: a popular hit that was also liked by the critics. Maybe they have to think of "Chicago" and the Oscars. Thanks for taking the time to comment and thanks for the jokes, Well done!

    2. According to a load of articles Columbia Pictures ran a load of FYC ads for Funny Girl. The theory was that since Funny Girl bested Oliver! at the box office that year they thought the Acedemy would choose the glitzy (and slightly more adult oriented) Barbara Striesand offering over Oliver!

      Afterall My Fair Lady did beat Mary Poppins in '64 and Columbia had this bright idea that maybe Funny Girl was the My Fair Lady to Oliver!'s Mary Poppins.

      Another technical case in this theory is that Fiddler on the Roof upstaged Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and Bedknobs & Broomsticks in '71

    3. Yes, interesting to ponder the kind of "Star" machine that must have been behind Streisand and Funny Girl. After all, she was a big Broadway and TV sensation by then, and virtually no one knew who anyone in the cast of Oliver! was. It must have thrown the industry for a loop!

    4. The only cast members of Oliver! who even came close to Striesandesque fame were Ron Moody, who starred in the original West End production of Oliver! as Fagin and Harry Secombe who back then frequently featured on Sunday Night at the London Paladium and was something of a tenor.

      The casting of Harry Secombe as Mr Bumble was an interesting choice. The production cast of Bedknobs & Broomsticks took a simmilar approach when casting Bruce Forsyth as the shady Swineburne. Like Secombe, Bruce Forsyth was (and still is) one of Britain's primetime entertainers who frequently headlined Sunday Night at the London Paladium but was hardly known in the US.

  27. I remember the 60s / early 70s. It seemed that every year musicals were clogging up Academy Award nominations and wins. Even musicals that wouldn't normally be in contention. Oliver! winning big, Funny Girl tieing for Best Actress, Fiddler on the Roof winning Cinematography, Sound and Score, Bedknobs & Broomsticks aka the eventual second "Nuns & Nazis romp" (at least a modified version of it) winning Visual Effects among others.

    In a way I was glad Oliver! beat Funny Girl in it's year. I would suspect that if FG won big Striesand would have been so full of herself.

    1. You're right. When I was young, i remember big musicals were like the superhero movies of today. They got all the press, there was one after another, and they raked up big opening weekends. They really were all over the place!

  28. It seems that the big musical trend at the moment is the rising number of jukebox musicals heading to the big screen.

    Started by the God-awful Mamma Mia there have been jukebox musicals here there and everywhere including Pitch Perfect, Sunshine on Leith (doing for The Proclaimers what Mamma Mia did for ABBA) and Walking on Sunshine (a compilation of 80s pop hits set in a summery Italian holiday resort).

    The only one of those that had the same heart as Oliver! was Sunshine on Leith (mainly bacause everyone in SOL could at least sing unlike Mamma Mia's Pierce Brosnan). Mamma Mia and Walking on Sunshine were just long adverts for sunny exotic holiday spots in Greece (Mamma Mia) and Italy (Walking on Sunshine), and Pitch Perfect just wanted to be Glee.

    I rekon you might like Sunshine on Leith

    1. You are indeed right about the easy-buck trend of jukebox musicals these days. Either that or seizing upon a film (Saturday Night Fever, Singing in the Rain, Mary Poppins) and clumsily converting it into a stage production.
      As a rule I don't care for the lazy nostalgia of jukebox musicals, but since I'm very unfamiliar with the music of The Proclaimers (Ok, I know one song), perhaps "Sunshine on Leith" might be worth a look. I've never heard of it, but I just checked out the trailer and it looks promising. Thanks for the tip!

  29. One thing i've noticed is that it seems that most of the heartfelt musicals seem to be set in Britain as opposed to the OTT splashiness of US set musicals like Grease and the blatent advertising of European holiday resorts like Mamma Mia.

    Wether it's set in London (Oliver!) or Edinburgh (Sunshine on Leith) UK set musicals seem to get individuals to, as you put it Ken, get waterworks.

  30. I remember a lot of people dismissing Oliver! in terms of Best Picture winners. As far as I'm aware musicals have always had that prejudice.

    Even Chicago fell into that trap when it toppled (to parden the pun) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (a possible allegory of 9/11 with Orthanc and Baradur representing the World Trade Centre).

    According to most fanboys "one contained one of the most epic battle scenes captured on film (the battle of Helm's Deep) and the other featured songs like The Cell Block Tango and All That Jazz"

    1. You're right in musicals never really being deemed "worthy" of Oscars unless they are huge prestige products for a studio (like My Fair Lady), and even then most people think drama trumps music. Your "Chicago" reference is a perfect correlative to "Oliver!" ...I don't think history is going to be kind to it, but it rejuvenated Hollywood interest in musicals, and for my taste, is one of the more successful stage-to-screen adaptations I've seen. (I never saw Lord of the Rings, so i'm allowing that I might be missing something special - although I kind of doubt it).
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

    2. Of course Chicago then gave birth to various movie adaptations of stage shows, including Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Johnny Depp as the revenge seeking barber) , Dreamgirls, Hairspray, Les Miserables (aka the Anne Hathaway show), Sunshine on Leith (giving The Proclaimers' songs a Mamma Mia makeover) and the biggest of them all Mamma Mia! (Meryl Streep being a Chiquitita/Dancing Queen alongside 3 potential Men After Midnight) In addition to those adaptations we also had Enchanted (Amy Adams as a Cinderella-esque princess).

  31. I have a theory that if Oliver! did't win Best Picture during it's year (which back then was expected to be a 2 way duel between The Lion in Winter and Funny Girl), it may have ended up in that cloak of nostalgia that redeemed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Bedknobs & Broomsticks, Scrooge, Cabaret and Grease among others.

  32. So you get emotional during I'd Do Anything. That's a new one I remember all this talk about people shedding tears during the Slipping Through my Fingers number in Mamma Mia!

    More recently we Brits had Sunshine on Leith in which Jane Horracks does a heartfelt rendition of the title song. Also the way that I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) is played out people started getting tears of joy. Look it up on Youtube and you'll see the simmilarities between the way 500 Miles is executed to I'd Do Anything.

  33. I rekon that some people find Oliver! a turn off is that the plot is a little more complex than your average musical film as opposed to for example Mamma Mia! which has the wafer thin daft plot of a bride-to-be trying to find her father before the wedding.

  34. Kath Green dubbing Mark Lester actually isn't out of the ordinary for musical movies.

    Back in the 60s it was done all the time usually for male leads. More recently, in the early 90s, Danny Elfman provided the singing voice for Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas while his normal dialogue was spoken by Chris Sarandon of Princess Bride fame.

    The problem we have now of course is that people are cast in musicals despite the fact they can't sing to save their voices. Richard Gere from Chicago, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and Pierce Brosnan from Mamma Mia (Pierce of course sounding like a dying buffalo when murdering SOS), Russell Crowe from Les Miserables and to a lesser extent the grizzly sounding Peter Mullan from Sunshine on Leith (singing like Tom Waits with a cold).

    I guess the crew behind Oliver! decided not to let Oliver Reed sing in case he did what we now know as doing a Pierce Brosnan.

  35. It's a shame that musicals often get the prejudice that happens when they get Best Picture nominations and wins. Thanks to that prejudice there was a long gap between Oliver!'s win and that of Chicago.

    If i was to predict the next possible musical Best Picture winner it would be an odd choice but if Harvey Weinstein buys the rights to the US release and distribution of Sunshine on Leith (he was the man who got Chicago toppeling The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers), that might be a wildcard contender.

  36. It will be interesting to see what happens in 2018. That will be the 50th anniversary of Oliver!

    When Oliver! had it's 40th anniversary hardly anyone commemorated it because we all spent too much time going crazy over Mamma Mia! especially with Pierce Brosnan's awful singing. Maybe the executives should have dubbed him.

  37. T think Oliver! was considered problematic at the time because it came out a year after "New Hollywood" broke into mainstream. During this period movies got more cynical and daring as a result of the collapse of the Hays Code, it got to the point that by 1967 musicals and historical dramas that were given the "Roadshow" treatment started to look antiquated. In other words while the likes of Oliver! and Funny Girl were in production, movies like The Graduate (which won the Best Film BAFTA over Oliver!), Bonnie & Clyde, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Easy Rider were revolutionising cinema.

    There were two other reasons why the cheery happy family musicals were considered irrelevent to the times; The Vietnam War was spiralling out of control and the nation was flooded by race riots.

    An example would be Doctor Dolittle, a musical hoping to be the next My Fair Lady, which came out the same year as The Graduate. Old Hollywood vs New Hollywood at the Academy Awards, both lose to a drama with a race relations angle, In the Heat of the Night.

    1. So true. The times were so tumultuous and fast-moving that a film that went into development in 1966 could come off as hopelessly out-of-touch by the time it was released.
      The late '60s saw the release of many films reflective of a public taste that was no longer relevant (case in point: the Sea-Star Island scenes in the monumentally expensive DOCTOR DOLITTLE were offensively cringe-worthy and tone-deaf in the Black Power late-'60s).
      Yet, as still remains the case, there are at least two different America's in existence at any given time, thus, an old-fashioned movie like OLIVER was able to find success amongst a demographic hungry for escapism and weary of the cynicism of "New Hollywood" reality.
      Excellent point and contextual perspective you introduced. Thanks very much for commenting!

    2. There is an interesting story that goes with that, Oliver! and Chitty were both filmed next door to one another at Shepperton studios.

      Apparently according to one of the backing dancers working on Chitty, Oliver! was designed to be a financial and critical flop ala The Producers. Rehearsals overran which caused the budget to inflate big time (the Consider Yourself number alone was rehearsed for nearly an entire month). By contrast the people working on Chitty were expected to be the big winners as both a money maker and Oscar darling. History tells us of course that the opposite happened.

      There a book written by Mathew Kennedy called Roadshow! The Fall of Musicals in the 1960s that you may be interested in.

    3. I have that book, and its a wealth of fascinating information for anyone interested not only in musicals, but Hollywood during a major period of transition. Glad you made reference to it for readers unfamiliar with the title.

  38. In my long, mostly unremarkable career as an actor in high school, college and community theatre, I had two big successes. As a sophomore in high school, I beat out all the seniors for the role of Henry Higgins in MY FAIR LADY, and in my late thirties, I played Fagin in the Ivoryton Playhouse Production of OLIVER!

    When I played Higgins, I spent literally months before the audition listening to Rex Harrison on the original Broadway Cast Album and read and re-read the play a dozen times. The senior who was expected to get the role never knew what hit him. (I actually got a standing ovation. At the audition.) Hilariously, in her review of the show for our town newspaper, the local critic said one of the things she really loved about my performance was that I wasn't trying to imitate Rex Harrison!

    When I played Fagin I did the opposite. I didn't listen to the cast album or watch the movie, even though I loved it as a kid. And yet when I watched it a few weeks after our show ended, it seemed as if I had mimicked all of Ron Moody's songs and line readings! Had his performance stayed with me all those years?

    I think that's the power of movies. You can't unsee a "definitive" performance. Which is why no Blanche DuBois totally escapes Vivien Leigh. Ditto Elizabeth Taylor as Martha or Yul Brynner as the King of Siam (even if the movie itself sucks.)

    1. Hi Kip
      That is such a fascinating and TRUE observation. My partner and I used to go to a lot of Equity-waiver and community theater, especially musicals. And one of the things (among many) that always stood out with these shows is how you could tell that performers learned how to interpret a show's song from listening to the cast album. Down to inflections, pauses, and cadences. This was always made doubly evident when we'd see professional companies and find the song interpretation and delivery to be unique (sometimes startlingly so) from the records I was familiar with.
      But the curse of the "definitive" performance extends to choreography as well. Many's the time I was tasked with doing a number from West Side Story, Sweet Charity, or Bye Bye Birdie, and I found myself unintentionally recreating the iconic moves I grew up seeing.

      Nothing wrong with that, ask I'm sure you found from your performances and how they were received, but you thoughtful observation does point to the indelible imprint some performances can make. Ron Moody's Fagin is locked down.

  39. Though not big on musicals, I've always enjoyed this film. "Who Will Buy" is just an eye-boggling spectacle, and Shani Wallis (otherwise unknown to me, as was her big song) is very affecting. Only the ending, with Fagin dancing into the sunrise, struck me as excessively cute.

    But I'm surprised to find no love here for the David Lean version. It has more Dickensian grit, more of Lean's brilliant editing (More? More! More!!), and a comparably dangerous Bill Sikes. The murder, shown to us effectively through the eyes of Bill's terrified dog, is peerless cinema.
    I've not seen the Polanski version, which seemed unnecessary at the time and evidently has attracted no admiration here.

    I don't think "Oliver!!" has ever been revived on Broadway. Too expensive, for one thing.

    1. Hello John – Your comments have me thinking I need to revisit OLIVER! soon. It’s been quite some time. Your citing of the things you enjoy and other things somewhat less so reminds me of how musicals have a way of offering a la carte pleasures. Many a musical endures for me because I can enjoy specific stand-alone musical sequences and songs, independent of what I might otherwise feel about the whole.

      I confess to never having seen David Lean’s OLIVER TWIST, at least not all the way through. From what I saw I’ve no doubt it’s perhaps the definitive translation of Dickens’ story, but try as I might, I found Guiness’ Fagin makeup too grotesque to make it past the first half hour. I’m sure I’m missing a great deal, but every time he appeared, I just kept wanting to avert my eyes.

      The Polanski version is competent and professional, and that’s about all that can be said of it.

      It’s curious there hasn’t been a major revival of OLIVER! on Broadway. As you say, it’s probably the expense. Or worse, NEWSIES has replaced it!
      Thanks so much for contributing and visiting this post, John!

  40. I genuinely think Oliver! has actually been embraced by the same cloak of nostalgia that redeemed Wonka, Bedknobs, Chitty and Scrooge in so much as its one of those movies that seems to be shown around Christmas time (despite not being set around Christmas). Its just that Oliver! is possibly a harder sell due to the lack of fantasy elements that the other three have (it has no flying cars, no oompa loompas, no ghosts, no crazy animal football matches). Fiddler on the Roof is another of these serious musicals.

    1. I meant four (do we count Scrooge as fantasy?).

    2. I completely agree. Time has turned such widely panned flops as "Hello, Dolly!" and "Camelot" into revisionist classics.
      And that's a perceptive take; noting the lack of fantasy as a possible hindrance to it's wider embracement as a "fun" family film. And, yes, I'd count "Scrooge" as a fantasy!