There have been many film and TV adaptations of Oliver Twist but this 1948 production from director David Lean remains the definitive screen interpretation of the Charles Dickens classic. From the ominous symbolism of its opening storm sequence (in which Oliver's pregnant, ill-fated mother struggles to reach shelter before childbirth) to the mob-scene climax that provokes Bill Sikes's dreadful comeuppance, this breathtaking black-and-white film remains loyal to Dickens while distilling the story into its purest cinematic essence.Every detail is perfect--Lean even includes... a coffin-shaped snuffbox for the cruel Mr. Sowerberry--and as young Oliver, eight-year-old John Howard Davies (who would later produce Monty Python's Flying Circus for the BBC) perfectly expresses the orphan's boyish wonderment, stern determination and waifish vulnerability. Best of all is Alec Guinness as Fagin, so devious and yet so delightfully appealing under his beak-nosed (and, at the time, highly controversial) make-up. (Many complained that Fagin's huge nose and greedy demeanour presented an anti-Semitic stereotype, even though Lean never identifies Fagin as Jewish; for this reason, the film wasn't shown in the US until three years after its British release.) Likewise, young Anthony Newley is artfully dodgy as Fagin's loyal accomplice, the Artful Dodger. Guinness's performance would later provide strong inspiration for Ron Moody's equally splendid portrayal of Fagin in the Oscar-winning Oliver! and while that 1968 musical remains wonderfully entertaining, it is Lean's film that hews closest to Dickens' vision. The authentic recreation of 19th-century London is marvellous to behold; Guy Green's cinematography is so shadowy and stylised that it almost qualifies as Dickensian film noir. Lean is surprisingly blunt in conveying Dickens's theme of cruelty but his film never loses sight of the warmth and humanity that Oliver embodies. --Jeff Shannon [show more]
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