My idea of a great musical. And it ranks right up there with any other movie version from the novel by Charles Dickens, including David Lean’s Oliver Twist and the Roman Polanski version. Hard to know who to point to as the real star because there are so many: Certainly director Carol Reed, who knows how to put it altogether doing nothing new in the musical form yet because the old format has been refurbished, it looks as good as new. And John Box’s production design is amongst the most soundstage-evocative of Dickens we’re likely to see; it’s visual companion that compliments the author’s social criticism and the set designs by John Bryan in Lean’s production. Fagin’s hideaway, with its sinking-in-the-mud stairs, is like staged VistaVision—we feel sated by the theatrically decrepit ambiance, enhanced by Oswald Morris’s photography. (Morris was primed for the job as the camera operator for Lean.) Nearly all of Lionel Bart’s score is beautifully integrated and maintains a faithfulness to the text’s varied emotions, though “As Long As He Needs Me” exposes a good woman’s lack of maturity that apparently needs to be penalized. (In an opera yes, in a family musical maybe not.) There’s Ron Moody’s greedy Rasputin-like Fagin, about whom adult viewers may have suspicions of pedophilia. (It replaces anti-Semitism.) If he sings “Reviewing the Situation” too loudly while his little bands of roving thieves are sleeping, there’s never any doubt that the performance is vaudeville as art. Another example of Reed’s cautious but not sanitized approach in making both a family movie and a refresher course for adults who read Dickens in high school: Oliver Reed as Bill Sikes, showcased just enough to unload the menace without overkill. Shani Willis’s sturdy Nancy, Mark Lester’s beatific Oliver, and Jack Wild’s Artful Dodger are dreams not even Dickens could have topped. Let’s not forget that scene-stealing owl, either. The musical, which has its vocal detractors, beat out Funny Girl, The Lion in Winter, Romeo and Juliet and Rachel, Rachel for the 1968 Academy Award as best picture. Also won best director, art direction, sound, adapted score. In the Chicago metropolitan area, it opened first at the UA Cinema 150 in Oak Brook, then nearly ten months later at the Palace. Filmed in Panavision.
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Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER (Revised 6/2013) All Rights Reserved.