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“Oliver! Oliver! Never before has a boy wanted more!!”

Well, actually, he has because this is the umpteenth version of the classic tale about a boy who has become a household name. No singing at all in this time, but this 1948 film about the orphan who had somewhat of a large adventure as a child is considered by many to be one of the best going around. Thankfully it’s made its way onto our favourite format so we can relive the familiar story once again. Let’s see how the disc stacks up.

Movie
The film starts off in a very dark and gloomy fashion, complete with haunting music, a dark and stormy night and some menacing looking trees swishing around. It’s a lot darker because the whole thing is presented in black and white, not surprisingly. Something tells me Sony et al hadn’t quite worked out the magic of colour TV by that stage.

As I mentioned everyone is familiar with Charles Dickens’ storyline. Oliver Twist is expelled from a work house by Mr.Bumble, a gruff and pompous man who didn’t take too kindly to the little fella asking for a little more for his dinner. He is then sold to a family for a measly sum and even then encounters some serious problems, throwing a few haymakers that school bullies would be proud of. But Oliver’s a smart lad, so he nicks off out of the situation and lands in the deft little hands of two blokes named Fagin and the Artful Dodger. The long-bearded Fagin takes Oliver under his wing and teaches him how to be a pickpocket, with the Dodger fella taking him out on the job within no time. Not surprisingly Oliver finds himself in even more trouble after a marathon chase through the streets of London.

Oliver Twist: Collector's Edition (1948)

But the trouble soon turns to good fortune when Oliver finds himself in the hands of a man named Mr.Brownlow, who looks after him for while. The little boy-tennis continues when he finds himself back with Fagin and Dodger after passing through the hands of a couple named Bill and Nancy. And when a murder is committed, Oliver is right in the thick of it.

David Lean has done a terrific job bringing us one of the better Dickens workings of all time. He captures a gloomy and seedy side to the story that many didn’t think of portraying, and he uses some outstanding art direction for the time period to really push this aspect home. As I said, don’t expect the characters to break out into song because, although this film is quite well known, it’s nowhere near as popular as the classic musical that had “Food, Glorious Food” stuck in the heads of its audience for months. Nevertheless this is a pretty faithful rendition of the film with just the right balance of interesting characters and gloomy surroundings to suffice.

The cast does a brilliant job at keeping us entertained throughout. John Howard Davies, who incidentally went on to produce and direct some of Britain’s most popular comedy series such as Fawlty Towers, The Goodies and Mr.Bean, is a great little Oliver, giving his character a bit of a more vulnerable, er, twist to make him well and truly stand out. Davies is well supported by Robert Newton as Bill Sykes, Alec Guiness as Fagin, Kay Walsh as Nancy and Anthony Newley as the infamous Artful Dodger. A great performance all round from the cast.

If you’re an Oliver fan then you’ll know doubt know this is easily one of the best of the large number of Oliver films made over the years. The acting is superb, the film is visually impressive and the story plays out exceptionally well even without those trite little musical numbers modern audiences have come to adore. I have no hesitation in recommending those with even a hint of interest take a look at this film. And keep your eyes on your wallets from now on. I know I will.  

Oliver Twist: Collector's Edition (1948)

Video
For a film of this vintage I wasn’t expecting anything like what I saw. Presented in 4:3 full screen (the original aspect ratio) and in black and white, even the most casual DVD fans would be tempted to turn up their noses. But in all this is a pretty good transfer, with the print a whole lot clearer than what I had imagined. If anything the film looks quite dark but that would have a lot to do with the lighting at the time of production and not a fault of the transfer. There are a number of artefacts present (as well as a lot of grain) and a few spicks and specks come up ever so often but for a 1948 film I don’t think you could have asked for anything better. If anything the imperfections help portray the dirty side of London where Oliver presides, so you won’t have any trouble staying focused on the film with this one.

Audio
Not much to say here, except we get a mono soundtrack that is quite soft on the ear. Be prepared to crank the volume up higher than usual, and you’ll no doubt find some bits of dialogue a little hard to make out. As much to do with the recording and mastering methods back in the forties as the soundtrack itself, you’ll find it harder to hear when there is a bit of music or a lot of crashing and bashing going on. And it’s quite funny to see the dialogue that had obviously been added after the shoot. But let’s not nitpick, because Dolby Digital hadn’t quite got off the ground by that stage, nor is there any need to create a surround track for this film.

Extras
Surprisingly we are treated to some meaningful extras on this disc. First up is a featurette entitled profile of Oliver Twist. Here we look at David Lean’s early films, including Brief Encounter and Great Expectations. The whole thing looks very slick, with a combination of interviews, clips from various films and other behind the scenes photos making the whole thing well worth a look. It was very interesting to hear about Alec Guiness’ request to play Fagin and his transformation into the character.

Also included is the theatrical trailer which laughably announced “another film by David Lean”. It was quite amusing to see the way movie trailers were made back then, with the high-pitched voiceover introducing all the main characters and actors. It’s a far cry from the deep, dark rumblings of today’s famous trailer voices but it’s entertaining nonetheless. Could you imagine a trailer for this film made today; “He was the wrong boy. In the wrong place. At the wrong time. He is......Oliver...Twist.” He he. But I digress...

Oliver Twist: Collector's Edition (1948)

There is also a collection of behind the scenes photographs set to music, running for approximately two minutes. A nice little addition with the welcome touch of a little blurb explaining what you see for every photo.

Rounding out the collection are a set of biographies for the main cast members and Director David Lean as well as some animated posters and production drawings that are quite interesting to look at. Overall a great little set of extras that is on par with what could have been expected for such an old film.

Overall
Even though I long for more musicals to hit the big screen there’s no doubt 1948’s Oliver is a great little film. The story is told to perfection (a little darker than usual) and all the major cast members pull off some impressive performances. The video transfer was a pleasant surprise, the audio was probably to be expected and the extras package was full of some really interesting pieces. In all, this Oliver Twist is a worthy addition to any collection. Now, where did I leave my wallet?


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