Oliver Twist (1948 film)

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Oliver Twist
Oliver Twist1948.movieposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by David Lean
Produced by Ronald Neame
Anthony Havelock-Allan
Written byDavid Lean
Stanley Haynes
Based on Oliver Twist
1837 novel
by Charles Dickens
Starring Alec Guinness
Robert Newton
Kay Walsh
John Howard Davies
Anthony Newley
Music by Arnold Bax
Cinematography Guy Green
Edited by Jack Harris
Production
company
Distributed by General Film Distributors (UK),
Eagle-Lion, United Artists (USA, 1951)
Release date
22 June 1948 (London) [1]
Running time
116 minutes (UK)
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish

Oliver Twist is a 1948 British film and the second of David Lean's two film adaptations of Charles Dickens novels. Following the success of 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 Sikes.

David Lean British film director

Sir David Lean was an English film director, producer, screenwriter and editor, responsible for large-scale epics such as The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965) and A Passage to India (1984). He also directed adaptations of Charles Dickens novels Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948), and the romantic drama Brief Encounter (1945).

Charles Dickens English writer and social critic

Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. His works enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime, and by the 20th century critics and scholars had recognised him as a literary genius. His novels and short stories are still widely read today.

<i>Great Expectations</i> (1946 film) 1946 film by David Lean

Great Expectations is a 1946 British film directed by David Lean, based on the novel by Charles Dickens and starring John Mills, Bernard Miles, Finlay Currie, Jean Simmons, Martita Hunt, Alec Guinness and Valerie Hobson. It won two Academy Awards and was nominated for three others.

Contents

In 1999, the British Film Institute placed it at 46th in its list of the top 100 British films. In 2005 it was named in the BFI list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14.

British Film Institute Film archive and charity in the United Kingdom

The British Film Institute (BFI) is a film and charitable organisation which promotes and preserves filmmaking and television in the United Kingdom. The BFI utilises lottery funds to encourage film production, distribution, and education. It is sponsored by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

In 1999, the British Film Institute surveyed 1,000 people from the world of British film and television to produce the BFI 100 list of the greatest British films of the 20th century. Voters were asked to choose up to 100 films that were 'culturally British'. The list also includes two non-British films, namely My Left Foot and The Commitments.

Plot

A young woman in labour makes her way to a parish workhouse and dies after giving birth to a boy, who is systematically named Oliver Twist (John Howard Davies) by the workhouse authorities. As the years go by, Oliver and the rest of the child inmates suffer from the callous indifference of the officials in charge: beadle Mr. Bumble (Francis L. Sullivan) and matron Mrs. Corney (Mary Clare). At the age of nine, the hungry children draw straws; Oliver loses and has to ask for a second helping of gruel ("Please sir, I want some more").

Workhouse place where those unable to support themselves were offered accommodation and employment

In England and Wales, a workhouse was a place where those unable to support themselves were offered accommodation and employment. The earliest known use of the term workhouse is from 1631, in an account by the mayor of Abingdon reporting that "wee haue erected wthn our borough a workehouse to sett poore people to worke".

John Howard Davies English actor, and television producer and director

John Howard Davies was an English child actor who later became a television director and producer.

Beadle

A beadle, sometimes spelled "bedel", is an official of a church or synagogue who may usher, keep order, make reports, and assist in religious functions; or a minor official who carries out various civil, educational, or ceremonial duties.

For his impudence, he is promptly apprenticed to the undertaker Mr. Sowerberry (Gibb McLaughlin), from whom he receives somewhat better treatment. However, when another worker, Noah, maligns his dead mother, Oliver flies into a rage and attacks him, earning the orphan a whipping.

Gibb McLaughlin English actor

George McLoughlin, known professionally as Gibb McLaughlin, was an English film and stage actor.

Oliver runs away to London. The Artful Dodger (Anthony Newley), a skilled young pickpocket, notices him and takes him to Fagin (Alec Guinness), an old Jew who trains children to be pickpockets. Fagin sends Oliver to watch and learn as the Dodger and another boy try to rob Mr. Brownlow (Henry Stephenson), a rich, elderly gentleman. Their attempt is detected, but it is Oliver who is chased through the streets by a mob and arrested. A witness clears him. Mr. Brownlow takes a liking to the boy, and gives him a home. Oliver experiences the kind of happy life he has never had before, under the care of Mr. Brownlow and the loving housekeeper, Mrs. Bedwin (Amy Veness).

Anthony Newley British actor and musician

Anthony Newley was an English actor, singer and songwriter. Newley achieved success as a performer in such diverse fields as rock and roll and stage and screen acting. As a recording artist he enjoyed a dozen Top 40 entries on the UK Singles Chart between 1959 and 1962, including two number one hits. With songwriting partner Leslie Bricusse, Newley penned "Feeling Good", which was popularised by Nina Simone and covered by many other popular artists, as well as the title song of 1964 film Goldfinger. Bricusse and Newley received an Academy Award nomination for the film score of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971).

Alec Guinness British actor

Sir Alec Guinness, was an English actor. After an early career on the stage, Guinness was featured in several of the Ealing Comedies, including The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts and Coronets in which he played nine different characters. He is known for his six collaborations with David Lean: Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations (1946), Fagin in Oliver Twist (1948), Col. Nicholson in The Bridge on the River Kwai, Prince Faisal in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), General Yevgraf Zhivago in Doctor Zhivago (1965), and Professor Godbole in A Passage to India (1984). He is also known for his portrayal of Obi-Wan Kenobi in George Lucas's original Star Wars trilogy; for the original film, he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 50th Academy Awards.

Henry Stephenson British stage and film actor

Henry Stephenson was a British stage and film actor. He portrayed friendly and wise gentlemen in many films of the 1930s and 1940s. Among his roles were Sir Joseph Banks in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) and Mr. Brownlow in Oliver Twist (1948).

Meanwhile, Fagin is visited by the mysterious Monks (Ralph Truman), who has a strong interest in Oliver. He sends Monks to Bumble and Mrs. Corney (now Bumble's domineering wife); Monks buys from them the only thing that can identify Oliver's parentage, a locket containing his mother's portrait.

Ralph Truman British actor

Ralph Truman was an English actor, usually cast as either a villain or an authority figure. He possessed a distinguished speaking voice. He was born in London, England.

By chance, Fagin's associate, the vicious Bill Sykes (Robert Newton), and Sykes' kind-hearted prostitute girlfriend (and former Fagin pupil) Nancy (Kay Walsh) run into Oliver on the street and forcibly take him back to Fagin. Nancy feels pangs of guilt and, seeing a poster in which Mr. Brownlow offers a reward for Oliver's return, contacts the gentleman and promises to deliver Oliver the next day. The suspicious Fagin, however, has had the Dodger follow her. When Fagin informs Sykes, the latter becomes enraged and murders her, mistakenly believing that she has betrayed him.

The killing brings down the wrath of the public on the gang — particularly Sykes who attempts to make his escape by taking Oliver hostage. Clambering over the rooftops, and with climbing rope hung around his neck, Sykes is shot by one of the mob and is accidentally hanged as he loses his footing. Mr. Brownlow and the authorities rescue Oliver. Fagin and his other associates are rounded up. Monks' part in the proceedings is discovered, and he is arrested. He was trying to ensure his inheritance; Oliver, it turns out, is Mr. Brownlow's grandson. For their involvement in Monks' scheme, Mr. and Mrs. Bumble lose their jobs at the workhouse. Oliver is happily reunited with his newly found grandfather and Mrs. Bedwin, his search for love ending in fulfilment.

Cast

Controversy

Cruikshank - Fagin in the condemned Cell Cruikshank - Fagin in the condemned Cell (Oliver Twist).png
Cruikshank – Fagin in the condemned Cell

Alec Guinness's portrayal of Fagin and his make-up was considered anti-semitic by some as it was felt to perpetuate Jewish racial stereotypes. [2] Guinness wore heavy make-up, including a large prosthetic nose, to make him look like the character as he appeared in George Cruikshank's illustrations in the first edition of the novel. At the start of production, the Production Code Administration had advised David Lean to "bear in mind the advisability of omitting from the portrayal of Fagin any elements or inference that would be offensive to any specific racial group or religion." [3] Lean commissioned the make-up artist Stuart Freeborn to create Fagin's features; Freeborn (himself part-Jewish) had suggested to David Lean that Fagin's exaggerated profile should be toned down for fear of causing offence, but Lean rejected this idea. In a screen test featuring Guinness in toned-down make-up, Fagin was said to resemble Jesus Christ. [4] On this basis, Lean decided to continue filming with a faithful reproduction of Cruikshank's Fagin, pointing out that Fagin was not explicitly identified as Jewish in the screenplay. [5]

The March 1949 release of the film in Germany was met with protests outside the Kurbel Cinema by Jewish objectors. The Mayor of Berlin, Ernst Reuter, was a signatory to their petition which called for the withdrawal of the film. The depiction of Fagin was considered especially problematic in the recent aftermath of the Holocaust. [6]

As a result of objections by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith and the New York Board of Rabbis, the film was not released in the United States until 1951, with seven minutes of profile shots and other parts of Guinness's performance cut. [7] It received great acclaim from critics, but, unlike Lean's Great Expectations, another Dickens adaptation, no Oscar nominations. The film was banned in Israel for anti-semitism. It was banned in Egypt for portraying Fagin too sympathetically. [8]

Beginning in the 1970s, the full-length version of Lean's film began to be shown in the United States. It is that version which is now available on DVD.

Release and reception

Box office

The film was the fifth most popular film at the British box office in 1949. [9] [10]

Critical reception

Oliver Twist currently has a 'fresh' rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average rating of 8.6 out of 10 based on 17 reviews. [11]

Legacy

Author Marc Napolitano noted that Lean's version of Oliver Twist impacted almost every subsequent adaptation of Dickens's novel. The film had two major additions that were not in the original novel. Napolitano wrote, "The opening scene, which depicts the beleaguered and pregnant Agnes limping her way to the parish workhouse in the midst of a thunderstorm, presents a haunting image that would resonate with subsequent adaptors. Even more significantly, the finale to the Lean adaptation has eclipsed Dickens’s own finale in the popular memory of the story; the climax atop the roof of Fagin’s lair is breathtaking." Songwriter Lionel Bart acknowledged that Lean's film "played a role in his conception" of the musical Oliver! [12]

Katharyn Crabbe wrote, "One common complaint about the form of Dickens' Oliver Twist has been that the author fell so in love with his young hero that he could not bear to make him suffer falling into Fagin's hands a third time and so made him an idle spectator in the final half of the book." Author Edward LeComte credited Lean for resolving the issue in his film version [13] where Oliver remains "at the center of the action" and has a "far more heroic" role. [14]

Related Research Articles

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Oliver Twist is a 1912 silent feature film drama based on Charles Dickens's classic novel Oliver Twist. This film is the first feature version of the story followed a later British film released in October 1912. Nat C. Goodwin, a distinguished comedian from the Broadway stage, stars. The General Film Company, usually a distributor, produced this film and it was released on State Rights basis.

References

  1. Silverman, Stephen M. (1992). David Lean. H. N. Abrams, Inc. p. 77. ISBN   9780810925076.
  2. ""JUNIOR ANGEL" AS FILM OLIVER TWIST". The Sunday Herald . Sydney: National Library of Australia. 30 January 1949. p. 5 Supplement: Magazine Section. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
  3. Drazin, Charles (3 May 2013). "Dickens's Jew – from evil to delightful". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  4. Mark Burman, presenter (27 June 2013). "Stuart: A Face Backwards". London. 13 minutes in. BBC. Radio 4. Retrieved 27 June 2013.Missing or empty |series= (help)
  5. Phillips, Gene D. (2006). "Oliver Twist (1948)". Beyond the Epic: The Life and Films of David Lean. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN   0813138205.
  6. "Fagin in Berlin Provokes a Riot". LIFE: 38. 7 March 1949. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  7. "Oliver Twist". criterioncollection. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  8. Brooks, Xan (8 August 2000). "The ten best Alec Guinness movies". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
  9. "THE STARRY WAY". The Courier-Mail . Brisbane: National Library of Australia. 8 January 1949. p. 2. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  10. Thumim, Janet. "The popular cash and culture in the postwar British cinema industry". Screen. Vol. 32 no. 3. p. 258.
  11. "Oliver Twist", Rotten Tomatoes . Retrieved on February 1, 2015.
  12. Napolitano, Marc (2014). "Chapter 1 - Setting The Stage: Oliver Twist, Lionel Bart, and Cultural Contexts". Oliver!: A Dickensian Musical. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0-19-936482-4.
  13. Crabbe, Katharyn (Fall 1977). "Lean's "Oliver Twist": Novel to Film". Film Criticism. 2 (1): 50.
  14. Crabbe, p. 47

Bibliography