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Film / Oliver!

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Oliver! is a 1968 film directed by Carol Reed.

It is an adaptation of the theatrical musical Oliver!, which was itself an adaptation of the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. The film opens with Oliver (Mark Lester) in a grim workhouse for orphans, where the orphans are fed just barely enough gruel to keep them alive. Oliver makes too much trouble at the workhouse (that is, he asks for more gruel), which gets him sold to an undertaker as basically a slave.

Oliver escapes from the undertaker and eventually winds up in the company of a thief named Fagin (Ron Moody), who runs a gang of young urchins as pickpockets and thieves. Oliver learns pocket-picking from a fellow orphan and expert thief who is named Jack Dawkins but who is always called the "Artful Dodger" (Jack Wild). Eventually the Artful Dodger picks the pocket of a wealthy gentleman, Mr. Brownlow (Joseph O'Connor)—one who has a surprising connection to Oliver.

Oliver Reed plays Bill Sikes, a murderous burglar and partner-in-crime with Fagin. A young Kenneth Cranham plays Noah Claypole.


  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The play had its own from the novel, with Fagin surviving and deciding to turn over a new leaf. This movie changes Fagin's ending yet again, with him still surviving, but deliberately deciding to continue his life of crime along with The Artful Dodger.
  • Adaptational Context Change: The film version turns the Irrelevant Act Opener "Oom-Pah-Pah" into a relevant number; Nancy sings the song to distract Sikes and Bullseye so Oliver can escape their sight.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Bill Sikes is villainous enough in the theatre version, actually. But invokedcutting his song "My Name" from the movie, leaving him as the only major character in the film who doesn't sing, serves to make him even scarier.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The scene with Oliver in court is not in the stage show, but was taken from the book.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication:
    • The film cuts out Old Sally and the deathbed reveal that she stole Agnes's locket while she was dying - instead just having the Bumbles show up at Mr Brownlow's house, implying they knew Oliver had a wealthy mother already and just waited ten years to try and profit off it.
    • In the original novel, Sikes and Oliver's failed robbery was Sikes and Fagin's attempt to corrupt Oliver as part of their and Monks' plan, as well as to introduce Rose and the Maylies. Here, the robbery holds no affect on the plot, and the people of the house are not seen afterwards. If anything, the sole purpose for it was the preparation as a means to give Nancy motivation to save Oliver.
  • Adapted Out: Old Sally and her death are dropped from the film adaptation.
  • Affably Evil: Fagin and Dodger, who, while genuinely pleasant to the kids under their care, actively look for children to recruit using many of the same criteria as modern cults. Fagin, however, after seeing how Nancy and Bill turned out, has something of a change of heart and, after some soul-searching and the destruction of his operation, resolves to turn over a new leaf.
  • The Alcoholic: A random gag has the judge at Oliver's trial (he has been arrested for pickpocketing) sneaking drinks from a flask hidden in his desk.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Nancy sings about her love of Bill Sikes, the best thief, who's a cold, bullying monster. It turns out bad for her in the end - he winds up killing her.
  • Animal Reaction Shot: When Oliver first enters the hideout of Fagin's thieves, everyone stops talking and stares at him, including an owl.
  • Answer Cut: Mrs. Sowerberry shows Oliver a picture of a "coffin follower" in a funeral procession and asks if Oliver can look like that. Oliver says "Perhaps, if I had a tall hat." Cut to Oliver, wearing a tall hat, leading a funeral procession.
  • The Artful Dodger: Jack Dawkins. Even more so than in the book.
  • "Awkward Silence" Entrance: Once the Artful Dodger believes Oliver Twist is an ideal fit for Fagin's gang, he drags Oliver through the city into the slums where he lives. When the two of them walk in, the rowdy boys playing card games, practising their tricks or chatting loudly over a cigarette, freeze and stare as Dodger and his guest walk past them towards Fagin's office. One boy is so suspicious, he jumps off a high ledge and lands behind Oliver to get a better look, his landing acting as a Jump Scare.
  • Bad Guy Bar: The tavern, which is obviously a den of prostitutes and also a rendezvous point for thieves like Fagin and Bill.
  • Bad Samaritan: Fagin, though downplayed from the book. While still somewhat self-serving, he is portrayed as something of a whimsical Loveable Rogue who does to some extent care for his gang (or at least loathes Sikes' treatment of them). Notably, the kids under Fagin's care are better dressed and much better-fed than the ones at the workhouse (even if the sausage is sometimes moldy).
  • Bawdy Song: In a sort of meta-example, "Oom Pah-Pah" both refers to this kind of song and is a very mild example itself.
  • Being Evil Sucks: Alone, we see Fagin contemplating this during "Reviewing the Situation", but also noting how hard it would be to start over as a good guy.
    Fagin: And though I'd be the first one to say that I wasn't a saint
    I'm finding it hard to be truly as black as they paint...
  • Berserk Button: Do not insult Oliver's dead mother. Or call him a liar for that matter, doesn't matter whether you are a "work ass" calling jerkass or Bill Big Bad Sikes himself, you will make an ugly scene.
  • Big Word Shout:
    Oliver: Please sir, I want some more.
    Mr. Bumble: WHAT?!
    Oliver: Please sir, I want some...more?
    Mr. Bumble: MORE?!!
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: "I'd Do Anything" starts out with cute lines about the things the boys would do, like "Would you climb a hill? (Anything!)/ Wear a daffodil? (Anything!)" etc. Then in the third verse:
  • Broken Bird: Nancy. Her plight is summed up in her song, "As Long as He Needs Me" which explains why she stays with Sikes despite his domestic abuse.
  • Character Development: Fagin provides a very interesting case study. When Oliver first meets him, he's a loud and frightening stranger who emerges from a cloud of smoke like the very Devil from Hell, bellowing at some random youngster who complains about the food to "Shut up and drink your gin!" Then, as Oliver gets introduced to everyone and he shows him around, Fagin starts looking a lot more like a comical villain, particularly during the song "You've Got to Pick a Pocket Or Two" where he hams up his whole Greedy Jew motif to pull some laughs. Later, as things get more serious, he reveals in his song "Reviewing the Situation" that he's tired of his whole criminal enterprise and wants out, but truly has nowhere to go, making him quite a sympathetic character indeed. By the end, he's pretty much run the entire range of Jewish villain characterizations from Shakespeare's time to ours.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Oliver witnesses and initially gets blamed for Dodger pick-pocketing, his own great uncle, no less.
  • Creepy Mortician: The Sowerberrys, a whole family of this.
  • Criminal Found Family: The musical tones down the harsh character of the master thief Fagin, and his gang of apprentice pickpockets seem to be a found family for orphan Oliver. The rollicking song "Consider Yourself" almost makes being a street urchin in Victorian London seem like fun. Oliver does want to be considered "one of" the gang. This is even further emphasized when The Artful Dodger and Fagin meet up again and decide to continue thieving. The Dodger suggests that he will be Fagin's partner and Fagin says "maybe a friend."
  • Crowd Song: "Consider Yourself", which ends with the entire neighborhood singing a welcoming song to Oliver.
  • Dark Reprise: "Reviewing The Situation" is first sung by Fagin as he tries and fails to convince himself to abandon his criminal ways, later reprised with the Artful Dodger as they pledge their dedication to a life of crime. Though the original version has Fagin realizing at the end of each verse that the situation he's imagining is actually unimaginable, so it's debatable how "dark" the reprise is, given that Fagin and Dodger both seem genuinely happy about the prospect:
    Together till our dying day
    The living proof that crime can pay
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • The Widow Corney, later Mrs Bumble, has her song "I Shall Scream" cut out and doesn't properly appear until she and her new husband show up with Agnes's trinket.
    • Bet's solos in "It's A Fine Life" and "I'd Do Anything" are given to Nancy, even though she's still present for them.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: Bill does this with an old-timey double-barreled pistol, while getting ready for the robbery and telling Oliver that he'd better come along and help, or else.
  • Drunken Song: "Oom-Pah-Pah": "There's a little ditty they're singing in the city, espec'lly when they've been on the gin or the beer..."
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: When being attacked by Bill, Nancy screams as loudly as she can, using her last moments to make sure Mr Brownlow finds Oliver.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: Bill Sikes is introduced in a far more ominous way than his partner Fagin, who was introduced with a whimsical musical number. The film first shows Bill's shadow, as he approaches through a tunnel that is lit from the other side. Then Bill himself appears silhouetted against the light streaming through the tunnel. His face isn't shown until Fagin walks up to greet him.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: "Reviewing the Situation" is this trope in musical form. Having realized that the life of a criminal, with all its "trials and tribulations", might not be the best thing for him, and he muses over possible alternatives: getting married, living in society, getting an honest job. Each time, though, he comes to the realization halfway through that the "solution" he's describing would not be an improvement (for example, a wife would just nag him and take his money), leading him to conclude:
    I think I'd better think it out again.
  • Everything Has Rhythm: During "Consider Yourself", everyone does this with whatever it is they happen to be doing. The road workers tamping down the street bang their hammers in time with the song.
  • The Fagin: The Trope Namer, the old guy running a gang of child thieves.
  • The Film of the Play: Theatrical adaptation of the hit stage musical of the same title.
  • Finger-Tenting: Fagin is ostentatiously doing this while he sits deep in thought, trying to figure out how to kidnap Oliver from the rich folks that have taken him in.
  • Flash Mob Cover Up: Inverted in that it's done to prevent a crime. Nancy starts giving out beer and getting her customers to sing a rather lively bawdy ballad, in order to let Oliver, who'd been kidnapped by Sikes, escape unnoticed. It doesn't fool Sikes' dog, however.
  • Food Songs Are Funny: "Food, Glorious Food". A bunch of starving workhouse boys sing of having all the food they want.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: All the camera shows of Sikes bludgeoning Nancy is his cane continually rising up and then disappearing, as Bill and Nancy are hidden by the staircase to the bridge.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: The rain pours as Oliver wearily tredges a muddy road to London after escaping from Mr. Sowerberry.
  • Haven't You Seen X Before?:
    The Artful Dodger: [to Oliver, who has just arrived in London] Whatchu starin' at? 'Aven't you never seen a toff?
  • Heel–Face Turn: Nancy, who decides to return Oliver to Mr. Brownlow, and pays with her life for that decision.
  • Hobo Gloves: Fagin wears them, to match his characterization.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Twice he gets in big trouble because he just stands there like a deer in headlights - first when Dodger and Charlie pick Mr. Brownlow's pocket, then later when he accidentally knocks something over in a house he's trying to rob and he just stands there until the lights come on upstairs.
    • Fagin and Dodger suffer this as well when they allow Oliver to "go to work" when he's been with them less than 24 hours and is clearly still far too honest and naive to be ready to pick pockets. (This is mainly due to Adaptation Distillation since in the book, Fagin forbids him from going out for several weeks while he's being trained).
  • Ignored Epiphany: Fagin, while "Reviewing the Situation," considered going straight and the situations it might result in, but finally decided:
    I'm reviewing the situation.
    I'm a bad 'un and a bad 'un I shall stay!
    You'll be seeing no transformation,
    But it's wrong to be a rogue in ev'ry way.
  • Innocent Flower Girl: Though unnamed, the Rose Seller has one of the loveliest solos. The actress plays her sweet and innocent, evoking this character archetype.
    Who will buy my sweet red roses
    Two blooms for a penny?
  • Intermission: The film version kept the intermission from the stage play. The break comes after Mr. Brownlow takes Oliver in, after Oliver is acquitted of theft.
  • Loveable Rogue:
    • Fagin, de-emphasizing his Greedy Jew characterization in the original. Ron Moody's cheerfully hammy performance makes for a significantly lighter character than the scary Fagin from the book. (He even stands up for Oliver on two occasions.)
    • Jack Dawkins, aka the Artful Dodger, is also a "kinder gentler" version; he steals to survive but bears no malice. In fact, the only truly evil gang member is Sikes.
  • Love Martyr: Poor Nancy has this BAD for Bill Sikes. She recognises this in "As Long As He Needs Me", but even though he's a murderous thug and robber who beats her and plans to kill Oliver, she still can't bring herself to hand him over to the law.
    As long as life is long
    I'll love him, right or wrong
    And somehow I'll be strong
    As long as he needs me.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Or great-uncle, as Mr. Brownlow figures out after he is shown the Orphan's Plot Trinket.
  • Midword Rhyme: "Food, Glorious Food" breaks the word "imagine" in half to make a rhyme.
    Can we beg, can we borrow or cadge
    But there's nothing to stop us from getting a thrill
    When we all close our eyes and imag-
    -ine, food, glorious food
  • Mood Whiplash: When Bill Sikes returns to Fagin’s hideout all bloodied up, Fagin asks him where Nancy is to which Sikes simply replies “She won’t peach on nobody no more.” Shaken, Fagin says he “shouldn’t have done that.”, then about half a minute later, says in a panicked voice “She peached? You sure?”
  • Noble Demon: Fagin is a thief, who trains others to be thieves, and works with Bill Sikes, but deep down he doesn't like his life and wishes the things he does weren't necessary, and tries his best not to be too bad. This trope is exemplified in the song "Reviewing the Situation":
    Though I'd be the first one to say that I wasn't a saint
    I'm finding it hard to be really as black as they paint
    I'm reviewing the situation
    Can a fellow be a villain all his life?...
    I'm a bad 'un and a bad 'un I shall stay
    You'll be seeing no transformation
    But it's wrong to be a rogue in every way
    I don't want nobody hurt for me
    Or made to do the dirt for me
    This rotten life is not for me
    It's getting far too hot for me
    There is no in-between for me
    But who will change the scene for me?
    I think I'd better think it out again!
  • No Song for the Wicked: Bill Sikes never sings, although other people sing about him.
  • Novelization: Random House published a hardcover novelization of the screenplay for younger audiences, illustrated with stills from the film. Among the stills featured were scenes showing the arrival at the workhouse and the death of Oliver's mother, who never appears in the film as was shown. Studio records list Veronica Page as the mother and Henry Kay as the Doctor attending to Oliver's birth.
  • Ode to Food: "Food, Glorious Food" is sung by the boys in the workhouse about how they're sick of gruel and want to eat all these other foods instead, including hot sausage with mustard, cold jelly and custard, pease pudding, and a great big steak.
  • Oh, Crap!: Fagin, when he loses his horde of treasures after tripping on the boards that cross the culvert outside the hideout.
  • Old-Timey Ankle Taboo: "Oom-pah-pah":
    Pretty little Sally
    Goes walking down the alley
    Displays her pretty ankles to all of the men
    They can see her garters
    But not for free-and-gratis—
    An inch or two, and then she knows
    When to say when!
  • Orphanage of Fear: The workhouse, where the children are fed only enough gruel to just barely keep them alive and able to labor. When Oliver acts up at the Sowerberrys' funeral parlor, the man from the workhouse explains that he's got more spirit now because they've been feeding him meat.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket: The locket, left with Oliver when his mother died. This is how Mr. Brownlow realizes Oliver is his great-nephew.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Oliver Reed slips in and out of his cockney accent in multiple scenes.
  • Parent Service: Nancy and Bet look a good deal better than women of their situation probably would have in their time, and Nancy gets a dress that shows some mild cleavage.
  • Picture-Perfect Presentation: A pencil sketch of a workhouse becomes the workhouse.
  • Pinball Protagonist: Oliver, who does little for himself but is only a character for others to act for and bounce off of.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: Fagin and Sikes could just let Oliver live a comfortable life in a rich person's house while they continue with their thieving. But a fear that Oliver might tell about them motivates them to kidnap him back, unleashing disaster for the gang in the end.
  • Roadside Wave: At one point in Oliver's long, long walk to London, he tries to hail a ride from a carriage. The carriage sails past, and splashes mud into Oliver's face.
  • Rump Roast: Three chimney sweeps get stuck. They are then scene running out of the building with their bottoms smoking, and they cool off by sticking their butts in a horse trough.
  • Shaking the Rump: A surprisingly explicit moment in this G-rated film has Nancy and the other hookers at the tavern shaking their rumps at the camera during Nancy's rendition of "It's a Fine Life".
  • Sidekick Song:
    • "You've Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two" serves as an Anti-Villain Song for Fagin.
    • "Consider Yourself" sung by The Artful Dodger.
    • Fagin also gets arguably the most fun song in the entire show, "Reviewing the Situation." He shares the reprise with Dodger.
  • Smart People Play Chess: How to make Mr. Brownlow look not just rich, but also sophisticated and thoughtful? Have him playing chess with a friend as Oliver comes downstairs in the morning.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Maybe. In both the Dickens novel and the musical, Bill definitely murders Nancy. And in this movie Bill thinks he's murdered Nancy—but her legs are clearly still moving when Brownlow and the others get to her. So, likely to help this film maintain a family-friendly G rating, Nancy's fate is left ambiguous.
  • That Reminds Me of a Song: Nancy starts up "Oom-Pah-Pah" as a distraction to let Oliver escape from Bill Sikes.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: The posse led by Brownlow that comes after Sikes at the end is wielding torches.
  • Villainous Advice Song: "You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two", in which Fagin instructs Oliver on the life of a pickpocket.
  • Wheel of Pain: The film briefly shows a variation on the theme during the opening scene, as the kids trudge on a wheel to grind flour.
  • Why Did You Make Me Hit You?: In a moment of panic after he's (apparently) murdered Nancy, Bill says "Look what ya done to me!"