The magnificent Oscar-winning best picture of the year for 1968, Oliver!, has been released as a Blu-ray special limited edition (3,000 units) by Twilight Time. This adaptation of the smash stage hit was a dream project for director Lewis Gilbert but, much to his dismay, the director's seat was given to Sir Carol Reed. How Gilbert's version of the film would have differed will never be known but suffice it to say, it's hard to imagine he could have improved on Reed's vision. There had been numerous previous screen versions of Dickens' classic novel Oliver Twist, with the most notable being David Lean's 1948 movie with a star-making turn by Alec Guinness as Fagin. The 1963 stage musical by Lionel Bart was a sensation and it stood to reason that the screen rights were quickly scooped up. The film went against the tide when considering other major musicals of the period. By the late 1960s, the youth revolution had taken international cinema by storm. Suddenly, big budget, old-fashioned musicals were deemed out-dated. Paint Your Wagon, Sweet Charity, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Hello, Dolly! and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever all either under-performed or outright bombed. Yet, Oliver! was a major hit with both critics and audience. Perhaps the anti-Establishment tone of Dickins' timeless tale had a wider appeal than those other films. Clearly, the story is a scathing indictment of the British class system that had consigned the poorest citizens to lives of toil and struggle. The novel's impact on social mores can be equated with that of Uncle Tom's Cabin in America. Yet, for all the darkness inherent in the story line, Oliver! is primarily a joyous screen extravaganza in which good inevitably triumphs over evil. The most famous orphan in all of literature is perfectly brought to life by Mark Lester, who has a natural grace in front of the camera and a shy demeanor that suits his interpretation of Oliver very well. (although his songs were dubbed by professional singers.) Surprisingly, the film was a major hit despite the lack of "name" actors. Only Oliver Reed (nephew of Carol Reed) had star power and his performance as the menacing Bill Sikes is truly frightening to behold. However, it is Ron Moody's Fagin that steals the show. It's a wonderful performance with Moody masterfully manipulating all those around him as London's most charismatic con man. Other stand-outs are Shani Wallis as Sikes' ill-fated lover Nancy, Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger and Harry Seacomb as Mr. Bumble. There are elaborate sets masterfully designed by John Box and show-stopping musical numbers like "Food, Glorious Food", "Consider Yourself", "As Long As He Needs Me" and ""Who Will Buy?".
Twilight Time's special edition Blu-ray is a wonderful experience. The transfer is excellent and the special features have broad appeal. There are recent interviews with cast members including Ron Moody and Mark Lester as well as a vintage featurette (that shows its age) depicting how the filming was done. There is also an isolated track score, sing-alongs and dance-alongs and a theatrical teaser trailer for the roadshow release that curiously doesn't have any moving images, just still photos. The film remains as entertaining today as it did during its initial release. This special edition makes perfect holiday viewing for the entire family.