Oliver Twist (1948)


It’s difficult to know what to mention first- Lean’s masterfully clear narrative structure or Guinness’s incredible prosthetic nose (what is it about Lean putting Guinness in mad costumes?); Robert Newton’s eyeball-rolling losing-it-rapidly Bill Sykes or Guy Green’s wonderful almost Expressionistic camerawork; the atmospheric opening or the delicious scenery-eating of Francis L. Sullivan- this is a very rich film.  I love the performances, the pace, the storyline and dialogue (though most of the credit there goes Boz, obviously) but most of all I really love the look of the film.  The stark monochrome contrast and wonderfully deep set locations in scenes like Sykes’ rooftop escape or Twist’s flee through the London streets leave an indelible impression on the watcher.  This looks more like the London of Dickens’ novels than any film I’ve seen- it is authentic and haunting.

I don’t want to say too much, I want to surprise myself when I see it again.  Everyone knows the story but this retelling of it is still surprising. Superlative, better even than Lean’s Great Expectations.  10/10.



4 Responses to Oliver Twist (1948)

  1. Guy Budziak says:

    Hey Vern,
    Here’s what’s going on. On my website I have my prints arrayed in rows of three. I decided a while back that instead of adding three more I’d wait until I’ve done six. At this point I’m on number five, and I need to get busy and get to no. six so I can post these damn things. Why am I telling you all this? Because two of the prints finished are of Sykes (Newton) and Fagin (Guinness). I’d like for print number six to be Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt). This is a masterpiece of a film, although for me both this and Great Expectations are 10/10. Why? Because while Oliver Twist is grand entertainment on an almost unparalleled scale, Great Expectations possesses an abundant amount of heart, it moves me every time I see it, without fail. But as for Oliver Twist… Lean didn’t want Guinness to play Fagin. Alec showed up in full makeup/regalia and blew Lean away, it was Guinness’s concoction, the hoarse croak of a voice, the over-the-top proboscis and the dermal scruff. This film took it on the chin here in the States when it was first released because the Fagin character was perceived as overtly anti-Semitic, and both Lean and Guinness were horrified by the implication, this was not their conscious intention. It wasn’t released here until the early Fifties, and even then with some cuts, some editing. I could go on and on about this film but I’ll mention one last thing: Sykes’ dog. When that mutt scratches at the wall when Sykes assaults Nancy, we’re all scratching at the wall at that point. And when Sykes ties a rope around the dog’s neck, with a stone at the other end, with the intention of drowning the dog… we as viewers are so relieved when the dog decides, Hell no, you’re not drowning me. This is a film that everyone on earth needs to see, at least once in their lifetimes.

  2. Vern McIlhenney says:

    I love your work Guy, I think it captures the mood beautifully. I’ve been a bit unwell and away from this site for a week or so but I did want to pick up with you about Richard Burton in ‘Villain’. If you can view a region 2 DVD I’ll send it over for you to have a look at.

    Hope you spot this reply. If not, I’ll catch up with you on yours soon.


  3. Guy Budziak says:

    I received a batch of region 2 DVDs from blogger David Cairns (SHADOWPLAY) not too long back. I’m not able to watch them on my DVD player but I am able to watch them on my PC. By all means feel free to shoot it my way, my email and mailing address are on my site, if I have anything you’d like to see we can do a trade. Hope you’re feeling better.

  4. Vern McIlhenney says:

    I’m laid a bit low still but improving thanks.

    I’ll send it across for you after the weekend. It isn’t the greatest transfer you’ve ever seen and the extras are as bare as can be, but it’s still well worth seeing.


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