I Saw That!

One woman's opinions about popular entertainment.

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Amateur boxing coach, Christian (but not so heavenly-minded that I'm no earthly good) singer, writer, self-defense advocate, childfree. feminist www.smartwomenboxingtraining.org

Monday, November 25, 2013

Oliver! (1968)

Based on Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist, this musical opens in a depressing location, an orphanage that doubles as a factory.  The boys are forced to do hard, long labor, and none of the kids are treated well.  When Oliver (Mark Lester) dares to ask for more food, he is taken out of the orphanage and sold to a local undertaker.  The undertaker's family doesn't treat Oliver any better than the orphanage did.  After an incident where Oliver is locked in the cellar as punishment, the boy escapes and makes his way to London.

Oliver isn't in the big city long when he's befriended by The Artful Dodger (Jack Wild), who introduces him to Fagin (Ron Moody) who's the head of a gang of young pickpockets.  Fagin participates in fencing stolen items with Bill Sikes (Oliver Reed), a dangerous sort who's in a relationship with the good-hearted Nancy (Shanni Wallis). A botched pickpocketing effort by The Artful Dodger and another boy ends with Oliver being accused of the crime.  But the well-to-do man who was the intended victim takes pity on Oliver and takes him into his home.  But Oliver's good fortune is in danger of being short-lived when Fagin and Sikes start worrying about whether Oliver will say something that will lead the cops to them.

I was surprised to learn that Lester's singing was dubbed by a female singer.  There had been a huge talent search to find someone to play the title character, but when they found Lester, it was learned that the kid couldn't sing well.  These days, Lester works as an osteopath.  Jack Wild, on the other hand, was a natural; he had played the role of Oliver Twist previously onstage.  The late Wild was better known to American audiences via his role on Sid and Marty Kroft's "H.R. Puffnstuf" (1969-1970).

Plenty of good songs in this one ("As Long As He Needs Me", "Where Is The Love", for example), and the movie does a good job of showing the life of the working class and poor in London of a couple of centuries ago.  Swarthy Mr. Reed is appropriately malevolent in his role as Sikes.  Lester's innocence is the heart of the film.

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