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The Academy Award winning Oliver! (1968) was not the first-ever film version of the famous Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist. There were at least seven previous versions captured on film, beginning with Pathe's 1909 version and ending with David Lean's version in 1948. Twenty years passed before the story hit the silver screen again. In 1960, Lionel Bart's musical version of the novel began playing on stage and it was an astounding success. In 1963, director Richard Quine expressed an interest in the film rights to Oliver!; he had hopes to cast Peter O'Toole as Fagin and Georgia Brown in a reprisal of her stage role as Nancy. A year later, Peter Sellers seemed set to play Fagin. Producer John Woolf had acquired rights to the film and planned to cast Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in starring roles. Discussions went back and forth several times before Sir Carol Reed was chosen as director.
Reed was known for his ability to elicit great performances from youngsters. He believed that children are natural actors, that one must merely use little tricks to coax the actor out of them. Reed needed a shot of Mark Lester as Oliver, reacting to a box of treasures opened by Fagin (Ron Moody, reprising his stage role). Lester had a hard time imagining something spectacular inside the box, so Reed brought in a white rabbit and brought it out of his coat for the boy; needless to say, he got his shot of the boy's wondrous expression. Equally impressive was Reed's direction of Jack Wild in the role of The Artful Dodger. Even though Wild was only fifteen at the time, his skillful performance earned him an Oscar® nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
The film, budgeted at ten million dollars, was shot in England at the Shepperton Studios. There had been talk about whether or not Britain could match the musicals of the United States, but Oliver! ended up surpassing many of them in both box office receipts and critical acclaim. Of the eleven Academy Awards for which it was nominated, Oliver! won five of them, plus an honorary award for Onna White for her choreography of the film's dance numbers, an honor only bestowed once before. The other five Oscars were won for Best Picture, Director, Art Direction/Set Decoration, Sound, and Score (Original or Adaptation).
Producer: John Woolf
Director: Carol Reed
Screenplay: Vernon Gilbert Harris
Production Design: John Box
Cinematography: Oswald Morris
Costume Design: Phyllis Dalton
Film Editing: Ralph Kemplen
Original Music: Eric Rogers
Principal Cast: Ron Moody (Fagin); Shani Wallis (Nancy); Oliver Reed (Bill Sikes); Harry Secombe (Mr. Bumble); Clive Moss (Charlie Bates); Mark Lester (Oliver)
C-146m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Sarah Heiman