Carol Reed (The Third Man) softens the edges of his social commentary as he heads into the slums of 19th-century London in this vigorous adaptation of Lionel Bart’s musical version of the Dickens classic.
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Oliver! is not merely unfaithful to Dickens but completely inappropriate as well. First of all, Lionel Bart seems to belong to that Broadway-West End school of thought that believes a musical can be made of anything from The Decameron to Das Kapital… Bart sentimentalizes the grime and crime with his ludicrous lyrics. Worse still, the group numbers of lower-class Londoners destroy the Dickensian literary heritage of individuality and grotesque contrast.
Almost a final hurrah for the large scale musical and a handsomely realised production at that, full of splendid musical numbers, rich caricatures and some magnificent sets. Not quite the chocalately confection you might expect with a pleasingly dark undercurrent of murder and danger cutting against the generally jolly vibe. It all works a treat.
It's hard to be objective about this film. I grew up with it and seen it over a dozen times. It has a particular resonance for a Londoner like me too. The voices and characters are still out there. The songs are beautiful ( check out John Lucien's superb cover https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sbNPKwGDJ4 )
The sets and choreography are great.
Ron Moody, Shani Wallis, Oliver Reed, and Jack Wild all make up for the weakness of Mark Lester (who is, to be fair, saddled with a lead character who just isn't as interesting as the supporting players). Most of the songs are great, although a couple really aren't ("Where Is Love?" makes my ears bleed), and the 2 1/2 hour runtime flies by.