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DirectorSir Carol Reed
Release Date(s)1968 (November 12, 2013)
Studio(s)Columbia TriStar (Twilight Time)
A young orphan named Oliver Twist (Mark Lester) finds himself adrift in the slums of 19th century London in this Oscar-winning adaptation of the classic Charles Dickens novel. Living in servitude in an English workhouse, young Oliver makes the mistake of asking for more gruel at dinner one evening. This outrages Mr. Bumble (Harry Secombe), the workhouse master, and soon Oliver finds himself up for sale. Purchased for a paltry sum by a mortician and his family, Oliver is treated cruelly but quickly escapes and makes the trek to London. His first day there, Oliver runs into a wily young pickpocket nicknamed The Artful Dodger (Jack Wild), who admits Oliver into his secret society – a hidden den of young thieves, led by the wizened and crafty Fagan (Ron Moody). Oliver is welcomed by these castaways, schooled in the art of pickpocketing and told that, if he works hard, he can one day become as good as Bill Sikes, a cold-hearted professional thief whom the boys all admire. Oliver is also befriended by Sikes’ girlfriend Nancy (Shani Wallis), a kind barmaid resigned to the life she lives, but who believes that Oliver deserves better.
Although none of the actors here won Oscars in 1968 (all the awards were for the production, including a Best Director nod for Sir Carol Reed), their performances are first rate. Oliver! couldn’t have been cast better. Young Lester has a soft-spoken, rosy-cheeked manner that you immediately empathize with and he’s got an angel’s voice. Jack Wild is equally good as the mischievous Dodger. Shani Wallis was a newcomer when she took this role, but she’s wonderful too. It’s Ron Moody as Fagan, though, who really shines here in a clownish and very funny performance. His scraggly beard, rumpled clothing and shifty eyes give the impression that he’s always thinking three moves ahead as he scurries and darts among the shadows. And the songs in this classic musical are gems, including Oliver!, Food, Glorious Food, Gotta Pick a Pocket or Two, Be Back Soon, I’d Do Anything and Who Will Buy? among others – they’re delightful to a number.
Twilight’s new Blu-ray release offers the film in quite good A/V quality. While not a marvel of state-of the-art HD, given the film’s vintage the image looks fine here in 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen. Colors are muted (by design) but accurate, contrast is terrific, and texturing and detail are lovely. There’s light to moderate grain throughout, rendering a very film-like presentation. This is certainly the best the film has ever looked in the home and I think most fans will be quite pleased. The 5.1 audio mix appears to be the same one prepared for the previous 1989 DVD release, and it’s presented here in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. The soundstage is front-loaded and surround channels are mostly used for atmosphere in the streets of London and in crowd scenes. This isn’t a full audio restoration (as the original stems have not survived), but the music sounds great and dialogue remains clear at all times.
Twilight Time has gotten some criticism (including from us here at The Bits) in the past for not carrying over more of the extras available on the previous DVD versions of their titles. But credit when it’s due: They really seem to be stepping up now. Sony’s DVD included a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette (in full frame), the film’s trailer and a gallery. The featurette and trailer are both here in full HD, and while the gallery didn’t make the BD upgrade, that’s no real loss (there were only 18 images anyway). Still, Twilight’s gone even further here, adding not only their usual isolated score track to this Blu-ray, but also various sing-along features (that family viewers will enjoy) and a pair of freshly-produced HD featurettes that offer new retrospective interviews with both Lester and Moody – very nice indeed! There’s even an insert booklet with an essay by Julie Kirgo. I should note that the isolated score was prepared from the “restored 4.0 MAG M&E” which means the track includes sound effects as well as the music. Regardless, it’s still a nice feature.
Oliver! is a rousing and engaging big-screen musical gem – one of my favorites in this genre. The film holds up extremely well all these years later and Twilight’s Blu-ray release presents it nicely indeed. Though only 3,000 copies are available (through the Screen Archives Entertainment website), it’s a fine release and it’s a thrill to have it on my video shelf in this kind of quality. Recommended.
- Bill Hunt