There is a story behind this film for me, and part of the reason it is in my hinterland. I wanted to see this film version of the stage musical by Lionel Bart when it was released at the end of the 60s but getting my parents to take me to the cinema was quite a job back then. Instead, I decided to watch it when it was broadcast on British television some time in the mid 70s. It was a time when the family television set was colour but we also had a small black and white one upstairs.
On Christmas Day, ‘Oliver!’ was broadcast in the afternoon when I knew my parents would be asleep. I didn’t take into account my older brother and his domination of the television and there was no way he was going to let me watch a musical! So I was banished to a bedroom to watch what was left of Carol Reed’s superb and joyous film in less wonderful black and white.
The story continues: a few years later, but still before video and DVD, I noticed in the newspaper that a local cinema was showing ‘Oliver!’ for one night only. I went along only to find myself at the end of a very long queue and I didn’t get in. I eventually saw the whole film in splendid isolation in the late 70s when I had access to a colour television. It was a fantastic hour or two.
Lionel Bart’s musical is wonderful, the songs especially, and the trimming of the story to shorten it and clear it of the complexities of the Dickens novel made it stronger. Mark Lester was the perfect innocent and Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger made it hard for anyone else to follow in this role. Ron Moody as Fagin was the charismatic heart of the film despite playing a morally dubious character.
‘Oliver!’ remains a fantastic film despite its age and I agree with the film critic I admire Xan Brooks who stated that this film improved on the weaknesses of the original Dickens novel, weaknesses exposed in a novel that started life as a weekly serial. I didn’t read the actual book until several years later and was surprised by the ‘extra’ parts of the story. It is hard to think now of the story of Oliver Twist without also thinking of the songs from this film.
‘Oliver!’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?