Carol Reed (THE THIRD MAN, ODD MAN OUT) softens the edges of his social commentary as he heads into the slums of 19th-century London in this vigorous adaptation of Lionel Bart's musical version of the Dickens classic. Mark Lester stars as Oliver, a nine-year-old orphan who's sold to an undertaker by workhouse officials for objecting to his scant rations; he soon manages to escape from bondage and make his way to London. There he's befriended by the precocious Artful Dodger (Jack Wild), a pickpocket who belongs to a gang of youthful thieves run by Fagin (Ron Moody), a veteran cutpurse. This criminal mentor admits Oliver to his academy of larceny, introducing him also to the brutish Bill Sikes (Oliver Reed) and Sikes's kind-hearted wife, Nancy (Shani Wallis). As time passes, Nancy becomes almost a mother to Oliver, and when the resentful Sikes falsely accuses the boy of stealing from the gang, it's time for the orphan to speak up and find out who his friends are. A romanticized and more lighthearted retelling of Dickens's brooding social melodrama, buoyed by a score studded with standards such as "Who Will Buy?" and "Where Is Love?" and energized by Broadway-style choreography, OLIVER! is a model of what a film musical should be.
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