• Oliver!



    Released by: Twilight Time Releasing
    Released on: November 12th, 2013.
    Director: Carol Reed
    Cast: Mark Lester, Ron Moody, Shani Wallis, Oliver Reed, Harry Secombe
    Year: 1968
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    1968 is more likely to be remembered as the apex of the sexual revolution and the free love movement than as a high point in musical cinema. Yet, in that same year, while Haight-Ashbury was ripe with long hairs, Greenwich Village was seeing the birth of their own arts scene and the Vietnam War was raging a musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist cleaned up at the Academy Awards. Based on the theatrical adaptation of the same name that had been running since 1960, director Carol Reed’s Oliver! has since (and quite rightly) gone on to be regarded as a classic, proving that some things never really go out of style.

    The story follows Oliver Twist (Mark Lester), an orphan living at a horrible orphanage in Victorian England. Here he and the other boys are basically treated as slave labor and when poor Oliver has the gall to ask for seconds at dinner one night, he’s promptly put up for sale by Mr. Bumble (Harry Secombe), the man in charge of the orphanage’s work force. A local mortician buys Oliver but after being treated horribly by them as well, he makes his escape for a life on the streets London, forty miles away.

    Shortly after arriving, Oliver meets a boy named The Artful Dodger (Jack Wild) who introduces him to a strange old man named Fagan (Ron Moody). Why? Because Fagan runs a clandestine group of thieves made up of society’s outcasts, people just like Oliver. This strange group soon proves to be more like a family than anything Oliver has ever known, and they quickly train him in the art of the pickpocket. Oliver is told that if he masters his craft, he may one day be as good as Bill Sikes (Oliver Reed), a champion criminal seen as a hero by the boys despite his cold heart and unpleasant demeanor. Things get complicated when Sikes’ beautiful girlfriend, a bar maid named Nancy (Shani Wallis), becomes fast friends with Oliver and takes it upon herself to see that he makes a better life than the one waiting for him on the streets.

    Making use of a cast made up in large part by young unknown actors, Oliver! is nevertheless very well performed. Mark Lester (who didn’t actually perform the songs sung by his character – that was handled by Kathe Green) is ridiculously sympathetic as the titular lead while Ron Moody, who played the part on stage, is excellent as the shifty Fagan. Shani Walls is also quite sympathetic as Nancy while Oliver Reed makes the most of his part, playing Bill Sikes as the right bastard that he is and doing a fine job of it as well.

    Shot pretty much entirely on studio sets, Oliver! retains the look of a stage play while using what film offers to keep the pacing strong and give the story a fluid sense of movement and momentum. Reed keeps things going at a solid stride here, and while the film is definitely on the long side at almost three hours in length, it’s never dull. A chief reason for that is the soundtrack. Featuring music and lyrics written by Lionel Bart which were conducted by John Green, the eighteen musical numbers (seventeen if you don’t count the closing exit music) do a fine job of complimenting the storyline. It’s one of those timeless stories told in a manner that doesn’t seem to age. The film still feels fresh, fun and touching and while some of that could be the clouded judgment nostalgia tends to bring about, Reed’s adaptation of Oliver! remains an excellent family friendly film that pulls you in from the start and holds your attention and your heart throughout. Is that corny to say? Probably. But it’s true.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Oliver! looks very good on Blu-ray framed in the proper aspect ratio of 2.35.1 widescreen in this AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer from Twilight Time. The colors look nice and bright without ever approaching oversaturation while black levels stay strong and quite stable. There isn’t much in the way of print damage to note at all, the image is quite clean in that regard, while a natural and at times heavy amount of grain is present throughout – meaning that this looks like film, as it should. There’s no evidence of noise reduction at all nor are there any problems with aliasing, edge enhancement or compression artifacts. Detail is impressive from start to finish as is texture and contrast. This is an excellent transfer, fans of the film will definitely notice the improvements that the format offers.

    The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, with optional English subtitles, is also quite good. There are a few spots that sound a little bit thin but otherwise, this is a very active track that puts you right in the center of each and every one of the musical numbers. There are plenty of great directional effects spread out across the mix and the levels stay properly balanced throughout. Dialogue is crisp and clear and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion. Some might lament the access of a mono track but all in all, there’s little room for complaint here.

    The main extras consist of a few featurettes, the first of which is an eight minute piece entitled Behind The Scenes that seems to have been shot to promote the movie upon its original theatrical release. Seen here are some nice behind the scenes clips showing the cast and crew at work. An interesting piece from the movie’s history. The second featurette is the fifteen minute Meeting Oliver! which is a recent interview with Mark Lester in which he speaks about playing the lead in the film and what it was like working as a child actor on this project. It’s quite informative and a welcome addition to the disc. Also quite interesting is a new thirteen minute interview with Ron Moody entitled Meeting Fagin! in which he shares his memories of working on the film, Carol Reed and his fellow cast members.

    The disc also includes Sing Along options for the following songs: Food, Glorious Food / Consider Yourself / Pick A Pocket Or Two / I'd Do Anything / Be Back Soon / Who Will Buy? / Reviewing the Situation / Oom-Pah-Pah. This plays out like a karaoke option and displays the lyrics to the songs in time as a subtitle stream. Accompanying this are Dance Instructions for: Be Back Soon / Food, Glorious Food / I'd Do Anything. When enabled, these show you the steps involved for cutting a rug of your own in time to the music. For the really devoted, you can also enable Dance And Sing Along options for the same three tracks in which, yes, you’re encouraged to dance and sing along to the three numbers and put on your own mini Broadway show in the privacy of your own home!

    An option to listen to the film’s isolated score (in DTS-HD) is also included as is the original theatrical trailer for the picture. Static menus and chapter selection are also included on the disc.

    As is the norm with Twilight Time Blu-rays, we also get an insert booklet included inside the case that features an essay on the history and importance of the film written by Julie Kirgo offering some welcome insight and backstory. Additionally it makes the case for why this unlikely film was so highly awarded when it hit theaters upon its initial release as well as for how it swept the Oscars and entrenched itself in the pantheon of pop culture as a legitimate classic.

    The Final Word:

    Oliver! debuts on Blu-ray in fine form from Twilight Time Releasing. The limited edition Blu-rays sounds good and looks even better and it’s nice to see the company putting more into the supplemental side of things with their more recent releases. As to the movie itself, it remains as timeless and as charming as it’s ever been, a really well made musical that strikes the right balance of humor, excitement and drama with some fantastic art direction, a ridiculously memorable score and a very fine cast.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!