Oliver! (film)

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Oliver! (1968 movie poster).jpg
British theatrical release poster
Directed by Carol Reed
Screenplay by Vernon Harris
Based on Oliver!
1960 musical
by Lionel Bart
Oliver Twist
1837 novel
by Charles Dickens
Produced by John Woolf
Starring Ron Moody
Oliver Reed
Harry Secombe
Shani Wallis
Mark Lester
Jack Wild
Cinematography Oswald Morris
Edited by Ralph Kemplen
Music byLionel Bart (music and lyrics)
John Green (music score)
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • 26 September 1968 (1968-09-26)
Running time
153 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom [1]
Budget$10 million
Box office$77.4 million

Oliver! is a 1968 British period musical drama film based on Lionel Bart's 1960 stage musical of the same name, itself an adaptation of Charles Dickens's 1838 novel Oliver Twist . Directed by Carol Reed from a screenplay by Vernon Harris, the picture includes such musical numbers as "Food, Glorious Food", "Consider Yourself", "As Long as He Needs Me", "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two", and "Where Is Love?". It stars Ron Moody, Oliver Reed, Harry Secombe, Shani Wallis, Jack Wild, and Mark Lester in the title role. Filmed at Shepperton Film Studio in Surrey, it was a Romulus production by John Woolf and was distributed internationally by Columbia Pictures.


At the 41st Academy Awards for 1968, Oliver! was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won six, including Best Picture, Best Director for Reed, and an Honorary Award for choreographer Onna White. At the 26th Golden Globe Awards, the film won two Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Actor – Musical or Comedy for Ron Moody.

The British Film Institute ranked Oliver! the 77th greatest British film of the 20th century. In 2017, a poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers and critics for Time Out magazine ranked it the 69th best British film ever. [2]


Act 1

At a workhouse in Dunstable, the governors hold a sumptuous banquet while the orphans are served their daily gruel and dream of enjoying ("Food, Glorious Food"). Forced by some of the other boys, who draw lots, where the tangled one falls on Oliver, Oliver approaches Mr. Bumble and the Widow Corney, and asks for more to eat. Enraged, Bumble takes Oliver to the governors for punishment ("Oliver!"). Paraded in the street to be sold to the highest bidder ("Boy for Sale"), Oliver is purchased by an undertaker. When his apprentice, Noah Claypole insults Oliver's dead mother, Oliver attacks him and is thrown by the undertakers into a coffin, until Mr. Bumble arrives to explain to them that Oliver should have been fed gruel instead of meat. Mr. Bumble grabs Oliver out of the casket and throws him into the cellar. Alone in the dark, surrounded by empty coffins, Oliver wonders ("Where Is Love?") before escaping through a window grate.

After a week on the road, Oliver reaches London. He meets the Artful Dodger, who takes him under his wing ("Consider Yourself"). Dodger brings Oliver to a hideout for young pickpockets led by Fagin, who instructs the gang in the art of stealing, declaring that ("You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two") to get by. Fagin later meets with Bill Sikes, a burglar. Sikes's girlfriend, Nancy, ponders her life ("It's a Fine Life"). When Fagin returns to his den, he opens up a secret wall where the box of valuables are kept, talking to an owl, until Oliver wakes up, startling Fagin, who explains to Oliver that his treasures were for his old age, before tucking him back in and singing him to sleep("You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two" reprise).

In the morning, Nancy and her friend Bet arrive at the hideout to collect Sikes' money. The boys mock Oliver for his manners, which Nancy finds charming. Dodger attempts to be just as gentlemanly ("I'd Do Anything"). Fagin sends the boys out for the day, entrusting Oliver to Dodger ("Be Back Soon"). Dodger steals a wallet from Mr. Brownlow, but Oliver is apprehended instead. Fearing Oliver will lead the police to the gang, Fagin and Sikes send Nancy to court. Oliver is too terrified to speak, but before the verdict is finalized, a witness named Mr. Jessop, the owner of the bookstall where Brownlow had been shopping just before the robbery, arrives and proclaims Oliver's innocence. Brownlow takes Oliver in, while Sikes and Fagin send Dodger to follow them, to Nancy's displeasure.

Act 2

Oliver wakes up in Mr. Brownlow's house, and happily watches from his balcony the merchants and inhabitants of Bloomsbury Square singing about this particular morning being so beautiful ("Who Will Buy"). Meanwhile, Fagin and Sikes decide to abduct Oliver and bring him back to the den with Nancy's help. Nancy, who has come to care for Oliver, at first refuses to help, but Sikes physically abuses her, forcing her into obedience. In spite of this, Nancy still loves Sikes, and believes he loves her too ("As Long as He Needs Me").

The next morning at Mr. Brownlow's house in Bloomsbury, Mr. Brownlow sends Oliver to return some books, with a five-pound note, to the booksellers. Before he departs, Oliver notices a portrait painting of a beautiful young girl. Mr Brownlow notes Oliver's resemblance to the girl - his niece Emily who disappeared years ago. He begins to suspect he may be Oliver's great-uncle.

As Oliver stops to enjoy a puppet show with other children, Nancy and Sikes appear and grab Oliver. They bring him back to Fagin's den, where Sikes quarrels and demands the five pound note from Fagin, for all of the trouble Sikes went through to kidnap Oliver, while Fagin keeps the books. After Oliver slaps Sikes, Sikes is about to hit him with a belt, until Nancy saves Oliver from a beating from Sikes after the boy tries to flee. Nancy remorsefully reviews their life, but Bill maintains that any living is better than none. Fagin tries to act as an intermediary, suggesting to Sikes to calmly sit and talk things out; however, Sikes takes Fagin by the scruff of his neck, warning him that if anyone led the authorities to their hideout, Sikes would kill Fagin. At this instant, Fagin declares Sikes to be a violent man. Left alone, Fagin wonders what his life might be like if he became an honest man ("Reviewing the Situation"); however, after thinking of various excuses, he elects to remain a thief.

Bumble and Corney pay a visit to Mr. Brownlow after he begins searching for Oliver's origin. They present a locket belonging to Oliver's mother, who arrived at the workhouse penniless and died during childbirth. Mr. Brownlow recognizes the locket as his niece's and throws the two out, enraged that they selfishly chose to keep the trinket and information to themselves until they could collect a reward for it. Meanwhile, in an attempt to introduce Oliver to a life of crime, Sikes forces Oliver to take part in a house robbery. The robbery fails when Oliver accidentally awakens the occupants, but he and Sikes get away. While Sikes and Oliver are gone, Nancy, fearful for Oliver's life, goes to Mr. Brownlow, confessing her part in Oliver's kidnapping; however, she refuses to state the name of Fagin or Sikes. She promises to return him to Mr. Brownlow at midnight at London Bridge; then she goes to the tavern. When Sikes and Oliver appear, Sikes orders his dog Bullseye to guard the boy. Nancy starts up a lively drinking song ("Oom-Pah-Pah"), hoping that the noise will distract Sikes. Bullseye, however, alerts Sikes, who gives chase.

As Oliver and Nancy share a farewell embrace at London Bridge, Sikes catches up and grabs both of them and throws Nancy aside before trying to take off with Oliver. When Nancy tries to stop Sikes by attacking him, it angers him. He then drags her behind the staircase of London Bridge and violently bludgeons her, injuring her fatally. He then takes off with Oliver, but Bullseye returns to the scene where Nancy has succumbed to her injuries and alerts the police. The dog leads Mr. Brownlow and an angry mob to the thieves' hideout. Sikes arrives at Fagin's den and demands money, revealing that he killed Nancy as well. Upon seeing the approaching mob, the thieves disband and flee. Sikes runs off with Oliver, using him as a hostage. During the evacuation, Fagin loses his prized possessions, which sink into mud. Sikes attempts to flee to an adjacent roof, but is shot dead in the process by the police. Fagin makes up his mind to change his ways for good. Just as he is about to walk away a reformed character, Dodger steps out from behind a post box with a lined wallet he stole earlier. The two of them then dance off into the sunrise together, happily determined to live out the rest of their days as thieves ("Reviewing the situation reprise") while Oliver returns to Mr. Brownlow's home for good.




The film used mostly young unknowns, among them Mark Lester (Oliver), Shani Wallis (Nancy) and Jack Wild as The Artful Dodger, but also featured Hugh Griffith, an Oscar winner for Ben-Hur , in the role of the Magistrate. Harry Secombe, who played Mr. Bumble, was well known in Britain but not in the United States, and Oliver Reed, who played Bill Sikes, had just begun to make a name for himself. Producer John Woolf suggested Oliver Reed for the role to the director Carol Reed, without knowing that the two were, in fact, related as nephew and uncle respectively. Many felt that the role of Nancy should have gone to Georgia Brown, who had played the role in the West End production. [3] Classical actor Joseph O'Conor, not well known in the U.S., played Mr. Brownlow.

Ron Moody later told an interviewer that when it was first proposed that he play Fagin, he felt that character was “pretty vicious and unpleasant; I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want to perpetuate what I considered to be an unfair, unpleasant image of Jewish people.” He came to realize that “that the only way to play Fagin was to forget Dickens and create a clown and I used every trick I could think of to take Fagin away from Dickens’ concept and to bring it into more of an entertainment situation.” [4]

Filming at Shepperton Studios commenced on 23 June 1967. [5]



Box office

The film earned $10.5 million in theatrical rentals at the US and Canadian box office. [6] and took $77,402,877 worldwide. [7] [8] In the United Kingdom, the film played for 90 weeks at the Leicester Square Theatre in London, grossing $1,992,000. It had been seen by 5 million people across the country at that time. [9]

Critical response

The performance of Jack Wild received critical acclaim and earned the 16-year-old actor his only nominations for a Golden Globe Award and a BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles, as well as nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, making him the fourth-youngest nominee in the category. Serie. Jack Wild (Dodger in film Oliver) tijdens persconferentie in bioscoop D, Bestanddeelnr 921-8847 (cropped).jpg
The performance of Jack Wild received critical acclaim and earned the 16-year-old actor his only nominations for a Golden Globe Award and a BAFTA Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles, as well as nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, making him the fourth-youngest nominee in the category.

Oliver! received widespread acclaim from critics. It was hailed by Pauline Kael in her review published in The New Yorker as being one of the few film versions of a stage musical that was superior to the original show, which she suggested she had walked out on. "The musical numbers emerge from the story with a grace that has been rarely seen since the musicals of René Clair." [10]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film four out of four stars. "Sir Carol Reed's Oliver! is a treasure of a movie," he wrote. "It is very nearly universal entertainment, one of those rare films like The Wizard of Oz that appeals in many ways to all sorts of people. It will be immediately exciting to the children, I think, because of the story and the unforgettable Dickens characters. Adults will like it for the sweep and zest of its production. And as a work of popular art, it will stand the test of time, I guess. It is as well-made as a film can be." He particularly admired Carol Reed's working relationship with the children in the film: "Not for a moment, I suspect, did Reed imagine he had to talk down to the children in his audience. Not for a moment are the children in the cast treated as children. They're equal participants in the great adventure, and they have to fend for themselves or bloody well get out of the way. This isn't a watered-down lollypop. It's got bite and malice along with...romance and humor." Although he stated that the film's roadshow presentation was a minor problem for children, who are not used to long films, he praised the production design, musical adaptation score, and casting and acting, particularly that of Ron Moody and Jack Wild. He concluded, "Oliver! succeeds finally because of its taste. It never stoops for cheap effects and never insults our intelligence. And because we can trust it, we can let ourselves go with it, and we do. It is a splendid experience." [11] He later named the film as the seventh best film of 1968. [12]

John Simon wrote 'Oliver is a nice, big movie musical which it is hard to say anything of special interest to the reader or even to oneself'. [13]

The Philadelphia Inquirer was enthusiastic: "There's atmosphere and airy grace to 'Oliver!.' It has catchy, sometimes beautiful songs and the voices to go with them. It rarely stops moving and it has the touch of melodramatic excitement....a prancing musical film which by reason of its stagecraft and performance is more exhilarating than it was on the stage, better rounded in its 'free' adaptation." [14]

Rotten Tomatoes awards the film an 89% "fresh" rating based on 74 reviews, with an average score of 8/10; the critics' consensus reads: "Oliver! transforms Charles Dickens’ muckraking novel into a jaunty musical Victorian fairytale, buoyed by Ron Moody’s charming star turn and Onna White’s rapturous choreography." [15]

At his death in 2015, The Forward said that Moody succeeded in transforming "a viciously anti-Semitic literary portrait into a joyous musical onscreen image." [4]


Oliver!, along with Columbia Pictures' other Best Picture nominee Funny Girl , secured a combined total of 19 Academy Award nominations, the most nominations for musicals from one studio in a year.

Oliver! was the last G-rated film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It was the last movie musical to win the award, until Chicago in 2002 (there have been other musicals nominated such as Hello, Dolly! , Fiddler on the Roof , Cabaret , All That Jazz , Beauty and the Beast and Moulin Rouge! ). Oliver! also had the distinction of being the last British film to win Best Picture until Chariots of Fire in 1981.

Award [16] CategoryNominee(s)Result
Academy Awards [17] Best Picture John Woolf Won
Best Director Carol Reed Won
Best Actor Ron Moody Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Jack Wild Nominated
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium Vernon Harris Nominated
Best Art Direction John Box, Terence Marsh, Vernon Dixon and Ken Muggleston Won
Best Cinematography Oswald Morris Nominated
Best Costume Design Phyllis Dalton Nominated
Best Film Editing Ralph Kemplen Nominated
Best Score of a Musical Picture – Original or Adaptation Johnny Green Won
Best Sound Buster Ambler, John Cox, Jim Groom, Bob Jones and Tony Dawe Won
Honorary Academy Award Onna White Won
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film Ralph KemplenNominated
British Academy Film Awards Best Film Carol ReedNominated
Best Direction Nominated
Best Actor in a Leading Role Ron MoodyNominated
Best Costume Design Phyllis DaltonNominated
Best Editing Ralph KemplenNominated
Best Production Design John BoxNominated
Best Sound John Cox and Bob JonesNominated
Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles Jack WildNominated
Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Carol ReedNominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Won
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Ron MoodyWon
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Hugh Griffith Nominated
Best Director – Motion Picture Carol ReedNominated
Most Promising Newcomer – Male Jack WildNominated
Laurel Awards Top MusicalWon
Top Male New Face Mark Lester Nominated
Ron MoodyNominated
Top Female New Face Shani Wallis Nominated
Moscow International Film Festival [18] Special PrizeCarol ReedWon
Best ActorRon MoodyWon
National Board of Review Awards Top Ten Films 9th Place
New York Film Critics Circle Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Director Carol ReedNominated
Sant Jordi Awards Best Performance in a Foreign FilmRon MoodyWon


The Academy Film Archive preserved Oliver! in 1998. [19]

Home video

Commencing in the US in 1998, Oliver! has been released worldwide on DVD by Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment and its successor Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The US DVD has the film, complete with its original overture and entr'acte music, spread across two sides of a double-sided disc, separated at the intermission. Everywhere else, it was issued on a single-sided disc. [20] Since 2013, it has been released on Blu-ray in several countries by Sony, with the US having an additional limited edition release by Twilight Time. [21]

Related Research Articles

<i>Oliver!</i> English musical by Lionel Bart

Oliver! is a coming-of-age stage musical, with book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. The musical is based upon the 1838 novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.

<i>Oliver Twist</i> Novel by Charles Dickens (1837–1839)

Oliver Twist, or the Parish Boy's Progress, Charles Dickens's second novel, was published as a serial from 1837 to 1839, and as a three-volume book in 1838. Born in a workhouse, the orphan Oliver Twist is bound into apprenticeship with an undertaker. After escaping, Oliver travels to London, where he meets the "Artful Dodger", a member of a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by the elderly criminal Fagin.

<i>Oliver Twist</i> (1948 film) 1948 British film by David Lean

Oliver Twist is a 1948 British film and the second of David Lean's two film adaptations of Charles Dickens novels. Following his 1946 version of Great Expectations, Lean re-assembled much of the same team for his adaptation of Dickens' 1838 novel, including producers Ronald Neame and Anthony Havelock-Allan, cinematographer Guy Green, designer John Bryan and editor Jack Harris. Lean's then-wife, Kay Walsh, who had collaborated on the screenplay for Great Expectations, played the role of Nancy. John Howard Davies was cast as Oliver, while Alec Guinness portrayed Fagin and Robert Newton played Bill Sykes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bill Sikes</span> Fictional character in the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

William "Bill" Sikes is a fictional character and the main antagonist in the 1838 novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Sikes is a malicious criminal in Fagin's gang, and a vicious robber and murderer. Throughout much of the novel Sikes is shadowed by his “bull-terrier” dog Bull's-eye.

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<i>Oliver Twist</i> (1997 film) 1997 television movie produced by Walt Disney Television

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Nancy (<i>Oliver Twist</i>) Character in the novel Oliver Twist

Nancy is a fictional character in the 1838 novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens and its several adaptations for theatre, television and films. She is a member of Fagin's gang and the lover, and eventual victim, of Bill Sikes.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mr Brownlow</span> Fictional character in Oliver Twist

Mr Brownlow is a character from the 1838 novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Brownlow is a bookish and kindly middle-aged bachelor who helps Oliver escape the clutches of Fagin. He later adopts Oliver Twist by the end of the novel.

<i>Oliver Twist</i> (1922 film) 1922 film

Oliver Twist is a 1922 American silent drama film adaptation of Charles Dickens' 1838 novel Oliver Twist, featuring Lon Chaney as Fagin and Jackie Coogan as Oliver Twist. The film was directed by Frank Lloyd. It was selected as one of the best pictures of 1922 by New York Times, Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. Walter J. Israel handled the costuming. Studio interiors were filmed at the Robert Brunton Studios in Hollywood. The film's tagline was "8 Great Reels that make you ask for more. Will Hays says Jackie Coogan Films are the sort the World needs." A still exists showing Fagin training his wards to be pickpockets.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charley Bates</span> Character from Charles Dickens Oliver Twist

Charley Bates is a supporting character in the Charles Dickens's 1838 novel Oliver Twist. He is a young boy and member of Fagin's gang of pickpockets, and sidekick to the Artful Dodger, whose skills he admires unreservedly. Bill Sikes's murder of Nancy shocks him so much that at the end of the novel he leaves London to become an agricultural labourer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fagin</span> Fictional character in Oliver Twist

Fagin is a fictional character and the secondary antagonist in Charles Dickens's 1838 novel Oliver Twist. In the preface to the novel, he is described as a "receiver of stolen goods". He is the leader of a group of children whom he teaches to make their livings by pickpocketing and other criminal activities, in exchange for shelter. A distinguishing trait is his constant and insincere use of the phrase "my dear" when addressing others. At the time of the novel, he is said by another character, Monks, to have already made criminals out of "scores" of children. Nancy, who is the lover of Bill Sikes, is confirmed to be Fagin's former pupil.

<i>Oliver Twist</i> (2007 TV series) 2007 British television series

Oliver Twist is a 2007 British television adaptation of Charles Dickens' 1838 novel Oliver Twist, written by Sarah Phelps and directed by Coky Giedroyc. It consists of five episodes, broadcast on BBC One from 18 to 22 December 2007. It aired on PBS' Masterpiece Classic in the United States on 15 and 22 February 2009, in two ninety-minute installments. In Australia, ABC1 also opted to air this series as a two-part special each Sunday at 8:30 pm from 20 December 2009.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oliver Twist (character)</span> Title character and the protagonist of the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

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Monks (<i>Oliver Twist</i>) Character in Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist

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<i>Oliver Twist</i> (1933 film) 1933 American film directed by William J. Cowen

Oliver Twist is a 1933 American pre-Code drama film directed by William J. Cowen. The earliest sound adaptation of Charles Dickens's 1838 novel of the same name, it stars Dickie Moore as Oliver, Irving Pichel as Fagin, Doris Lloyd as Nancy, and William "Stage" Boyd as Bill Sikes.

<i>Oliver Twist</i> (1985 TV serial)

Oliver Twist is a 1985 BBC TV serial. It was produced by Terrance Dicks, directed by Gareth Davies, and adapted by Alexander Baron from the 1838 novel by Charles Dickens. This version follows the book more closely than any of the other film adaptions.

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