In Charles Dickens' classic tale, an orphan wends his way from cruel apprenticeship to den of thieves in search of a true home.In Charles Dickens' classic tale, an orphan wends his way from cruel apprenticeship to den of thieves in search of a true home.In Charles Dickens' classic tale, an orphan wends his way from cruel apprenticeship to den of thieves in search of a true home.In Charles Dickens' classic tale, an orphan wends his way from cruel apprenticeship to den of thieves in search of a true home.In Charles Dickens' classic tale, an orphan wends his way from cruel apprenticeship to den of thieves in search of a true home.
He began to see a formula develop here. He was more than a one book phenomenon, and he could see that while people adored his sense of humor, they also liked the serious material. His own life had been harsh - his father had been in debtor's prison, and Dickens had to work in a blacking warehouse (a warehouse where bottles were filled and labeled) as a youth. So he put a great deal in his work of the underside of life in modern England. Compare his novels with those of the two popular "Gods" of the day: Sir Walter Scott's novels were about a heroic past, while Jane Austen concentrated on personalities in the countryside (upper middle class) who were concerned about getting married. Dickens was quite different.
But for his third novel he reversed his formula - instead of a basically comic story enlightened with dramatic moments, he made it a tragic, dramatic tale enlightened with comic highlights. It was this formula he would stick to (quite successfully) from 1837 to 1870 for the bulk of his novels and short stories.
In 1836 there had been a trial of a receiver of stolen goods named Ikey Solomon. Ikey was Jewish. He was also something of a thief trainer. Found guilty, Ikey was sent to Australia for the rest of his life. Dickens decided that he would incorporate this story into his novel.
The hero, a poor boy who was brought up in an orphanage, is mistreated by those in authority (including a pompous beadle named Mr. Bumble) and eventually runs away, but falls into a gang in London led by one Fagin. Fagin is a Jewish thief and receiver in stolen goods. He is also a trainer of pickpockets and thieves, led by one called "The Artful Dodger". He also works closely with a violent, professional burglar named Bill Sykes, who has only two close relationships: his girl, a woman named Nancy, and his pet bulldog.
Oliver in the course of the story is separated from the gang when he is arrested for picking the pocket of a gentleman named Mr. Brownlow. Brownlow tries to help Oliver - he can't place it but there seems something about the boy he likes. Sykes manages to recapture Oliver again, but the latter is reunited by accident to Brownlow after he is injured in an burglary Sykes is committing.
In the meantime Mr. Bumble and his wife (the matron of the poor house Oliver was raised in) have turned over information about Oliver's real history to a stranger named Monk. Monk has also been in contact with Fagin to make sure that Oliver is kept in the gang. But then Nancy starts showing a strong conscience about what is going on about the boy.
I won't go beyond this in terms of the plot. David Lean had made several films (including BRIEF ENCOUNTER) before this 1948 film. He did a bang up job with a great cast: John Howard Davies as Oliver, Alec Guiness as Fagin, Robert Newton as Sykes, Henry Stephenson as Mr. Brownlow, Kay Walsh as Nancy, Francis L. Sullivan as Bumble, and a young Anthony Newley as the Artful Dodger. Lean trimmed much out of the six hundred page novel (short for a Dickens novel), but left the main points. His biggest actions were concerning Alec Guiness's performance as Fagin - the character is a vicious anti-Semitic caricature by Dickens (who made fitful attempts to make up for it in later editions of the novel - showing Fagin was not a good Jew either!), and the make-up job looked like something out of Julius Streicher's Nazi publication DER STURMER of a few years before. But the makeup job on Guiness was based on the illustrations of George Cruickshank and "Phiz" in their editions of TWIST when it came out. Still, in balance to this, Fagin is shown at the conclusion to have a sense of personal dignity when confronted by a deadly mob. That touch shows that Lean could go beyond Dickens' own prejudices to somewhat balance the story. The result was a masterpiece - certainly the best film adaptation of OLIVER TWIST, possibly the best version on film of a Dickens novel.
- Jan 15, 2006