Oliver! (1968) Mark Lester, Jack Wild, Ron Moody. Dir: Sir Carol Reed
Yes, it’s a musical. It’s from the stage play which opened in the West End in 1960, thus ushering in the age of putting exclamation points in the titles of plays. The play came to America as a tour and then started up on Broadway in 1963 with Davy Jones as the Artful Dodger.
The stage play, of course, is based on the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens which ran as a serial beginning in 1837, under the reign of George IV, rather than Queen Victoria, who took over in June of 1837. Therefore it is not a Victorian novel. Just in case you were wondering.
The plot is as follows: a boy named Oliver(!) lives in an orphanage and is not getting enough to eat, so he asks for seconds. This was unheard of and prompted the orphanage people to take him to town and sell him. Then he runs away from the family they sold him to, and honestly, I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone wouldn’t want to live with someone who puts a monetary value on one’s life. So, Oliver(!) meets another boy who lives with a bunch of other boys who work for a guy named Fagin. There is singing, dancing, hookers, pimps, despair, joy, terror, triumph, and an owl. The end.
This movie means a lot to me for a lot of reasons. I will try to tackle them chronologically. But not chronologically to the real world, chronologically in my head, so apologies in advance for any perceived bass-ackwardry.
Reason #1: In 1969, it won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1968. This may or may not have been the year I was born.
Reason #2: The very first movie I saw in a movie theater was H.R. Pufnstuf. I may or may not have been 2 years old. (On a note extremely off to the side, my mother was so excited that I behaved so well during this movie that she took me to see Patton the next week. And took me home less than an hour into it.) For those of you not in the know, the significance of Pufnstuf is that the boy in that movie, Jack Wild, played The Artful Dodger in Oliver!. In fact, he was offered the role in Pufnstuf because of his work in Oliver!. I must insist on putting a period after the exclamation point, lest you think I’m shouting these things at you.
Reason #3: When I was 7, I used to listen to the soundtrack over and over every day. I stole it from my mom, who bought it because she was playing the Widow Corny in a local production of it and liked the music. Of course, the Widow Corny barely figures in the movie, but she has an actual song in the play. Which this is not. It’s the movie.
Reason #4: I have been acting since I was almost 3 years old, so as a kid, I dreamed of playing Nancy. When I got into my teens, I realized that the fun role was actually Fagin. So now I want to play Fagin some day. Ron Moody is the best Fagin there could ever be.
Reason #5: When I was little I had a huge crush on Jack Wild, and when I watch the movie, I have the mind of a 7 year old (the age when I first saw the movie). I still see Jack Wild as an older boy whom I want to date. Of course, in the movie he’s a kid, and in real life he’s dead. Which is immeasurably sad.
I think those are enough reasons as to why this movie means so much to me. The question is, why should it mean anything to you? Well, I guess it was inevitable that I would have to stop talking about myself. I’ll do another point by point thing.
1) You can tolerate musicals enough to not let some songs get in the way of being able to recognize great acting and a great story, as well as awesome directing, and amazing sets all built just for the film.
2) You are a huge Oliver Reed fan.
3) You don’t mind takin’ it like it turns out.
4) You are interested in the MPAA rating system which also began in 1968, making Oliver! the first rated film to win Best Picture (and also the last ‘G’ rated film to win).
5) You like watching people pick-pocket and steal to live.
6) You want more reasons?? Never before has (anyone) wanted more!
7) You want to watch Mark Lester, who could neither sing nor cry, sing and cry- through the miracle of modern technology (dubbing and onions).
8) You like top hats and fingerless gloves.
9) You’d do anything (anything?) anything for me.
10) Nine reasons were enough, I just like to write the number 10. 10.
You must Watch Oliver!! (Only the second exclamation point was mine) I really, truly, honestly believe that everyone either likes this movie or hasn’t seen it yet. So long, fare thee well, pip pip, cheerio. Be back soon.