Sweetened Dickens, a contradiction in kind. If the works of Charles Dickens have their moments of sentiment, they're well-earned, thanks to the savagry and deprivation abundant in the master storyteller's plots. Here, Carol Reed tries to balance the story elements by rendering the story as
a fable; the moments of tenderness are intellectualized. Given that Oliver! could easily get that perfunctory cuteness that packs the matinees with old ladies, it's a wise move. But being English himself and probably knowing Dickens better than we do, why didn't Carol Reed restore the Dickensian
flavor that could give OLIVER! some bite? OLIVER! is the familiar story of young Oliver Twist (strongly played by Mark Lester), an orphan who prefers life on the streets to the hard labor of a foster family or life in a vile orphanage. One day he meets another street urchin, the Artful Dodger
(Jack Wild, in an equally strong performance), who tells him of a group of young hooligans that will consider him "part of the family." All Oliver has to do is learn to pickpocket and give his earnings to Fagin (Ron Moody), the crusty criminal gang leader; in return he'll have a "family" and a
place to stay.
OLIVER! is better than most screen musicals of the 1960s, a period when oversized, poorly rendered songfests virtually killed the genre. The score, while hardly immortal, is well served by the actors and Oliver Reed for once found a character he could sink his loathsome self into.
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