Oliver! is the only Dickenson film I have watched beside Little Dorrit. I’ve watched Oliver! several times and each time, I found new things to enjoy. Oliver! is a musical/movie. It has great casting and lots of funny, sad, or beautiful songs in it.
The musical opens in the workhouse, as the half-starved orphan boys are entering the enormous lunchroom for dinner (“Food Glorious Food”). They are fed only gruel. Nine-year-old Oliver (actually identified as thirteen in the libretto but generally played as much younger, as in the Dickens novel) gathers up the courage to ask for more. He is immediately apprehended and is told to gather his belongings by Mr. Bumble and the Widow Corney, the heartless and greedy caretakers of the workhouse (“Oliver!”). Mr. Bumble and Widow Corney are left alone, and Mr. Bumble begins to make amorous advances. Mrs. Corney pretends to resent his attentions (“I Shall Scream!”), but ends up on Mr. Bumble’s lap, kissing him. Oliver comes back and is promptly sold (“Boy for Sale”) and apprenticed to an undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry. He and his wife taunt Oliver and Mr. Bumble (“That’s Your Funeral”). He is sent to sleep in the basement with the coffins, something which makes him visibly uncomfortable. (“Where is Love?”).
The next morning bully Noah Claypole, who oversees Oliver’s work, insults Oliver’s dead mother, whereupon Oliver begins pummeling him. Mrs. Sowerberry and her daughter, Charlotte run in, and become hysterical. Mr. Bumble is sent for, and he and the Sowerberrys lock Oliver in a coffin, but during all the commotion Oliver escapes. After a week on the run, he meets the Artful Dodger, a boy wearing an oversize coat and a top hat. He beckons Oliver to join him (“Consider Yourself”). Dodger is, unknown to Oliver, a boy pickpocket, and he invites Oliver to come and live in Fagin’s lair. Fagin is a criminal, and he is in the business of teaching young boys to pick pockets. Oliver, however, is completely unaware of any criminality, and believes that the boys make handkerchiefs rather than steal them. Oliver is introduced to Fagin and all the other boy pickpockets, and is taught their ways (“You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two”).
The next day, Oliver meets Nancy, the live-in girlfriend of the evil, terrifying Bill Sikes, a burglar whose abuse she endures because she loves him. Nancy and Oliver take an instant liking to each other, and Nancy shows motherly affection toward him. Bet, Nancy’s younger sister (her best friend in Dickens’ novel and the 1968 film), is also with her. Nancy, along with Bet and the boys, sing about how they don’t mind a bit of danger (“It’s a Fine Life”). Dodger humorously starts pretending to be an upper-class citizen, (“I’d Do Anything”), along with Fagin, Oliver, Nancy, Bet, and the boys mocking high society. Nancy and Bet leave and Oliver is sent out with the other boys on his first pickpocketing job (“Be Back Soon”), though he still believes that they are going to teach him how to make handkerchiefs. Dodger, another boy pickpocket named Charley Bates, and Oliver decide to stick together, and when Dodger and Charley rob Mr. Brownlow, a wealthy old man, they run off, leaving Oliver to be arrested for the crime (“The Robbery”).
The next morning, at Mr. Brownlow’s house in Bloomsbury, Ms. Bedwin, the housekeeper (who sings in the stage version, but not in the film), sings to Oliver, (“Where Is Love? [Reprise]”), and Oliver wakes up. Mr. Brownlow and Dr. Grimwig discuss Oliver’s condition. They come to the conclusion that he is well enough to go outside, and Mr. Brownlow sends Oliver on an errand- he asks him to return some books to the library. From his window, Oliver sees a group of street vendors and joins them in song once he steps outside (“Who Will Buy?”). As the vendors leave, Nancy and Bill show up and grab Oliver. They bring him back to Fagin’s den, where Nancy saves Oliver from a beating from Sykes after the boy tries to flee but is stopped. Nancy angrily and remorsefully reviews their dreadful life, but Bill maintains that any living is better than none. Fagin tries to act as an intermediary (“It’s A Fine Life [Reprise]”). When Sykes and Nancy leave, Fagin, who also wants out, humorously ponders his future (“Reviewing the Situation”). However, every time he thinks of a good reason for going straight, he reconsiders and decides to remain a criminal.
Back at the workhouse, Mr. Bumble and the Widow Corney, now unhappily married, meet up with the dying pauper Old Sally and another old lady, who tell them that Oliver’s mother, Agnes, left a gold locket (indicating that he comes from a rich family) when she died in childbirth. Old Sally stole the locket and now gives it to the Widow Corney. Mr. Bumble and Widow Corney, realizing that Oliver may have wealthy relatives, visit Mr. Brownlow in order to profit from any reward given out for information of him (“Oliver! [Reprise]”). He throws them out, knowing that they have suppressed evidence until they could get a reward for it. Brownlow looks at the picture inside the locket, a picture of his daughter, and realizes that Oliver, who knows nothing of his family history, is actually his grandson (Oliver’s mother had disappeared after having been left pregnant by her lover, who jilted her).
Nancy, terrified for Oliver and feeling guilty, visits Brownlow and promises to deliver Oliver to him safely that night at midnight on London Bridge – if Brownlow does not bring the police or ask any questions. She then ponders again about Bill (“As Long As He Needs Me [Reprise]”). Bill suspects that Nancy is up to something. That night, he follows her as she sneaks Oliver out, although in the stage version it is never made clear how he knew exactly when to do this. At London Bridge, he confronts them, knocks Oliver temporarily unconscious, and brutally clubs Nancy to death (in alternative stagings of the show, he either strangles her, stabs her, or slits her throat, but the musical’s original libretto follows the Dickens novel in having her beaten to death). He then grabs Oliver, who has since revived, and runs offstage with him, presumably back to the hideout to ask Fagin for getaway money. Mr. Brownlow, who had been late keeping the appointment, arrives and discovers Nancy’s body. A large crowd soon forms, among them the distraught Bet. Bullseye, Bill’s fierce terrier, returns to the scene of the crime and the crowd prepares to follow him to the hideout. After they exit Fagin and his boys, terrified at the idea of being apprehended, leave their hideout in panic. Not finding Bill at the hideout, the anxious crowd, now whipped up into a thirst for justice, returns to the Thames Embankment, when suddenly Bill appears at the top of the bridge, holding Oliver as hostage and threatening to kill him if the crowd tries to take him. Unseen by Bill, two policemen sneak up on him. One of them fatally shoots Bill and the other grabs Oliver as Bill releases him. Oliver is then reunited with Mr. Brownlow. The mob, still eager for vengeance against this underground criminal network, begins a mad search for Fagin. When one of the members of the crowd suggest that he may be at the Three Cripples pub, they disperse offstage in order to track him down. As the crowd exits, Fagin sneaks on and decides that, after years of pickpocketing and training junior pickpocketers, the time has never looked better for him to straighten out his life.
If you want to check out the official website for all the productions of Oliver! go here.
I’m sorry I couldn’t get any pics of the movie…