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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Oliver! (1968)

In the mid 1800s, an orphan (Mark Lester) runs away from a workhouse to London where he falls in with a group of child pickpockets and thieves led by a devious crook (Ron Moody). On the face of it, Charles Dickens' OLIVER TWIST would seem an unlikely subject for a musical but the show (with music and lyrics by Lionel Bart) was a hit in both London's West End and on Broadway. Carol Reed's film adaptation ranks with the greatest movie musicals ever made. Reed doesn't attempt to make the film a wholesome family musical. Dickens' darkness is still there whether in the grim workhouse surroundings, Bill Sikes' (Oliver Reed, the director's nephew) chilling sadist and his physical abuse of his mistress Nancy (Shani Wallis) or Fagin's (Moody) criminal exploitation of the children. Yet there are moments of sheer joy like the early morning Who Will Buy? number and the lovely I'd Do Anything that are so jubilant that it brings tears to your eyes. Reed has a huge assist from John Box's incredible Oscar winning production design and Onna White's stunning choreography (so impressive that she was voted an honorary Oscar for her work here). The performances are uniformly excellent. With Jack Wild, Harry Secombe, Hugh Griffith, Peggy Mount, Leonard Rossiter and Megs Jenkins.

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