Synopsis of Movie

“Please, sir, I want some more.”

The last of the big-budget family musicals, Oliver! sent the genre off in style. Lionel Bart’s 1960 stage musical version of Charles Dickens’ classic Oliver Twist was already a cross-Atlantic hit, but Carol Reed’s 1968 film took the material to new heights. This was in no small part due to Bart’s hummable songs, John Box’s meticulous period sets and Onna White’s rousing choreography.

The story stays fairly true to the Dickens original. Orphaned moppet Oliver Twist lives in a workhouse with dozens of other abandoned tots, surviving on tiny bowls of nasty gruel. When Oliver asks for more of this “Food, Glorious Food,” the belligerent Mr. Bumble drags the ungrateful brat out by the ear onto the snowy streets, offering this “Boy For Sale.”

Oliver is purchased by a family of undertakers, who treat him no better that Bumble did. Locked up in the cellar after an altercation with the undertaker’s foul apprentice, Oliver escapes, hoping to find his fortune in London.

Instead, the boy falls in with the bearded Fagin, a conniving, but soft-hearted crook who takes Oliver in with his other urchins. A streetwise pip named The Artful Dodger becomes the boy’s chum and teacher, training him to become a member of Fagin’s pocket-picking army. Unfortunately, young Oliver isn’t too good at it (his honest nature and slow feet get in the way), and he is swiftly apprehended by the authorities.

Thankfully, the man whose pocket was being picked, Mr. Brownlow, is a wealthy gentleman who has pity on poor Oliver’s plight and takes him into his own home. What seems like a happy ending is spoiled when the thoroughly evil Bill Sikes, an associate of Fagin’s, comes to take the boy back, leading to a noble sacrifice, a suspenseful chase and a thrilling rooftop chase.

A commercial smash, Oliver! was also a hit on Oscar night, picking up six of the statuettes, including Best Picture, Best Director, and an Honor Award for White’s choreography. Ron Moody was nominated for his work as Fagin, as was the fifteen-year-old Jack Wild (later the star of Sid & Marty Krofft’s H.R. Pufnstuff) for his turn as The Artful Dodger.

The movie remains a treasured classic from the bygone era of musical spectacle (the “Who Will Buy” sequence is worth a watch by itself), and the songs—“Food, Glorious Food,” “Consider Yourself,” “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two,” “I’d Do Anything” and more—haven’t dimmed in the decades since they were written.

Movie Release History

1968 - Oliver!

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Fagin Ron Moody
Nancy Shani Wallis
Bill Sikes Oliver Reed
Mr. Bumble Harry Secombe
Oliver Twist Mark Lester
The Artful Dodger Jack Wild
The Magistrate Hugh Griffith
Mr. Brownlow Joseph O'Conor
Mrs. Bumble Peggy Mount
Mr. Sowerberry Leonard Rossiter
Mrs. Sowerberry Hylda Baker
Noah Claypole Kenneth Cranham
Mrs. Bedwin Megs Jenkins
Bet Sheila White
Dr. Grimwig Wensley Pithey

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