If you are of a certain age when cinema was quite different and you enjoy musicals you won't want to miss this. In fact if you agree with what I have written I am sure that you have already seen it.
Watch this in a bluray restored version otherwise you will have to suffer the awful years old recordings that some distributors still try to sell. Bluray is the way to go. I watched this film again as a digital download on my iPhone 6+ on the day that Ron Moody died at the age of 91. Thank you for the memories and the entertainment. We never met but I was sad to hear the news. I send my thoughts to your family.
The one thing that really irritates me about a lot of musical films is when the script is forsaken for the existence of musical numbers as was the case with The Sound of Music and Les Miserables. In Oliver!, the film actually makes a conscious effort to balance them so that it tells the classic Charles Dickens story with plenty of passion but also succeeds as a flashy musical film. The narrative in Oliver! examines legitimate issues of poverty and the life of crime with a sense of real drama about it, but at the same time it is able to succeed as a lighthearted musical wonder which means that it captures the same kind of balance that Norman Jewison brought into Fiddler in the Roof in 1971 which remains one of my favourite musical films. He does not precisely reach the same level of success as there are still some story issues, but the fact is that the mood of the film and the general sense of style is very captivating.
There are so many characters in Oliver!, and because of that the titular character largely has to play second fiddle to countless other rapscallions and lads around him. The screen is stolen most of the time by characters such as Fagin and more notably the Artful Dodger, particularly considering that these actors actually sing their own parts unlike Mark Lester. The fact that Mark Lester's singing is dubbed by Kathe Green tends to stick out at times. The high pitch of his voice is a little too feminine for it to really be convincing in the part of Oliver Twist, and so it becomes a challenge to accept at times. But like I said, the other cast members are so energetically passionate about the feature that they make it difficult to stay mad at. The story is not perfect, but viewers of Oliver! are likely to get distracted by the general charm of the film and the stylish directorial work of Carol Reed. Though Carol Reed is the same director of the gritty noir masterpiece The Third Man, he turns it all around with Oliver! by ensuring that all the necessary lighthearted charm is implemented in . I'll admit that the dark nature of Oliver Twist is not fully embraced by Oliver!, but that is because it is based on a Broadway musical and not the original source novel. Because of that, the story does not precisely get as deep as you might hope and instead remains on the surface. But even then, it manages to consistently grasp the correct atmosphere a lot of the time.
However, Oliver! does take a downturn predominantly after the intermission. The primary issue I would find with the musical numbers in Oliver! is that they can stretch on for a while at times. One problem I have with Oliver! is that it is a very long film for such a lighthearted story about children, and it tells its tale at a slow. This is a recurring theme in classical musical films from the era in which it was blooming, and it is not likely to capture the same appeal of viewers these days. It is reflected in many of the musical numbers which stretch on for a long time and occasionally stilt the narrative from proceeding forward. This is problematic considering that the depth of the film is minimal, and as the film drags on this becomes more and more apparent. Because the manic energy of the film grasps viewers at the start, as the narrative stretches on and on without consistently maintaining this same sense of wonder but rather slowing down. The second act of Oliver! is largely the turning point for when the innovative energy of the story turns from refreshing to repetitive and narrows down the contemporary entertainment value of the experience.
But that being said, Oliver! still has its value. As a visual experience, Oliver! maintains all the glitz and glam you would expect from an Academy Award winning musical film. The scenery and production design of the film perfectly encourage the timeframe of the film, as does the costumes. But the most visually impressive aspect is the cinematography which consistently manages to grasp the scale of each scene's mood with its close ups and wide shots, as well as its smooth panning. The cinematography brings out the colour of the film's production very nicely, and the spirit is elevated further by the music. The musical numbers in Oliver! maintain a distinct English charm about them thanks to the talented cast, as well as the fact that the writing is consistent without being that repetitive. But as well as that, the compositional team on Oliver! really manage to stick it out because they pull out some sophisticated and yet lighthearted musical pieces.
But some of the most memorably appealing elements of Oliver! come from the performances of the cast.
Jack Wild is easily the standout in Oliver!. Overshadowing Oliver Twist himself, Jack Wild swoops in with all his youthful charm to take over the role of the Artful Dodger by singing his heart out with effectively detailed articulation. And even when he is not singing, Jack Wild manages to cleverly capture the right level of sophistication in the character while balancing it with a friendly nature of street smarts which really capitalises on his youthful English charm in every facet. Jack Wild is the screen stealer in Oliver!, and his wonderful performance makes the tragedy of his later real life experiences all the more heartbreaking.
Ron Moody also entertains as Fagin. In the role, he captures a deviant and silly nature which makes him a funny creation but at the same time he conveys a sense that he truly cares about the characters of the story which makes him all the more likable. As the patriarch of a gang of pickpockets, he has the job of interacting with the younger cast members for most of the film. He does it without condescending them and his chemistry with them helps to elevate them to reaching the same kind of energetic charisma that he evokes so well. Ron Moody is spot on in the role of Fagin.
And Mark Lester is decent in the title role. Like I said before, the fact that he does not deliver his own songs throws him off quite a bit. But when the musical numbers are not the primary focus, Mark Lester manages to capture a friendly sense of innocence within the role of Oliver Twist. He certainly captures the innocent nature of the character thrown into a world which is so unwelcoming of him and easily has viewers sympathising for him throughout the story, so he does manage to contribute something to the film even if it's not in the proper musical form that it should be.
So Oliver! has a talented cast of actors and strong production values, but the length of the film is weighed down by its pace and a poor second half.