Musical Monday: Oliver! (1968)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

OliverThis week’s musical:
Oliver! (1968) – Musical #690

Columbia Pictures

Carol Reed

Mark Lester, Oliver Reed, Ron Moody, Shani Wallis, Harry Secombe, Jack Wild, Hugh Griffith, Joseph O’Conor, Peggy Mount, Leonard Rossiter, Hylda Baker, Sheila White

A musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s novel “Oliver Twist.” Oliver (Lester) is an orphan in a work house and is sold to a mortician as an apprentice. Oliver runs away and meets up with thief Fagan (Moody) and his group of child thieves, including the Artful Dodger (Wild).

• Musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s book “Oliver Twist.”
• Kathe Greene, daughter Johnny Greene, dubs the singing voice of Mark Lester.
• Filmed in 35mm Panavision and blown up to 70mm Panavision for the roadshow screenings.
• Oliver Reed’s song “My Name” was cut from the final film.
• Director Carol Reed is the uncle of actor Oliver Reed.
• Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were mentioned in early discussions of the film as Bill and Nancy.
• Ron Moody reprised his role of Fagin which he played on the stage. Peter Sellers and Lawrence Olivier were also considered for the role.
• 84 boys were in the cast ranging from ages 8 to 15.


Shani Wallis, Ron Moody, and Oliver Reed in OLIVER!

• The dancing

Notable Songs:
• “Food, Glorious Food” performed by the chorus
• “Oliver!” performed by the chorus
• “Consider Yourself”
• “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” performed by Ron Moody
• “It’s a Fine Life” performed by Shani Wallis
• “I’d Do Anything” performed by Jack Wild, Shani Wallis, Kathe Green for Mark Lester, Sheila White, Ron Moody
• “Who Will Buy?” performed by a chorus of street vendors
• “As Long as He Needs Me” performed by Shani Williams

Oliver 3

Mark Lester and Jack Wild

My review:
Stories by Charles Dickens have manifested in multiple ways: television, films, plays and musicals. Dickens’s second novel, “Oliver Twist” has been transformed many ways. It’s been on the silver screen since the silent screen era, transformed into a Disney cartoon with dogs, and a West End (and then Broadway) musical.

This week’s Musical Monday, “Oliver” (1968), was a film adaptation of the West End stage musical. The film tells the story of orphan Oliver, who is sold into an apprenticeship and then runs away where he falls in with a gang of thieves.

I love most Dickens film adaptations, and I also really enjoyed this one. Though I must note: Because Oliver is filled with children, I think people assume it’s a story for children. It really isn’t. “Oliver” is a dark story filled with twists and turns, abuse and murder.

I’ll start off by saying: Ron Moody and Oliver Reed are really the highlights of this film. Moody plays the role of Fagain, which he originally portrayed on stage.

oliver 4This was Oliver Reed’s breakthrough role and … he’s also really hot in it. He does a great job playing the dastardly Bill Sikes and is terrifying. He was apparently also terrifying to the children on set, because he was big and intimidating. My only regret is that Reed’s song was eliminated from the film. It would have been interesting to see him sing.

The dance numbers choreographed by Onna White are impressive and large scale! While director Carol Reed isn’t known for musicals — he did grittier films like THE THIRD MAN (1949) or THE FALLEN IDOL (1948) — he expertly films complex dance numbers which involve many performers.

I didn’t know much about this musical going into it, but still knew some of the songs.

I’ll admit, the misstep for me in this film was Kathe Green dubbing Mark Lester in this film. Her voice did not fit the young boy, so either the singing voice or the child should have been recast, in my opinion.

Apparently Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were originally considered for the roles of Nancy and Bill, and I think that would have been awesome casting, however, both would probably have to be dubbed.

While I really enjoyed this musical production of OLIVER! (1968), I’ll admit my favorite version of this story is David Lean’s 1948 version of “Oliver Twist.”

But this is still a brisk-moving story with fabulous songs (and really handsome Oliver Reed).

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