"Oliver": Comfort Movie Musical
Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist" is a typical type of masterpiece: a harrowing trip through the worst of Victorian, England, from workhouses, to petty thieving boarstal, in a society even worse than modern day england, from the POV of wasted ophan Oliver on a trip to redemption. The sort of redemption, Dickens didn't always give his characters.
Based upon the terrifying years Dickens spent as a child laborer while his impoverished father was imprisoned for having no money, it rings so harsh it is painful to read in places. One of Dickens' gift was his facility with children from Twist to David Copperfield to the young Pip in "Great Expectations".
Dickens can be a comfort read.
But never a shallow one.
So there was every reason to expect the West End Musical of the novel to be a sugar coated morsel, But Lionel Bart wrote it, and it ended up a poisonous bon bon.
Bart is worth remembering here, the youngest of seven children whose parents ran awain from the anti-Semetic polgroms of the Ukraine for London. In the 1950s he wrote English hits like "Living Doll" and "Little White Bull". In 1960 he wrote (by humming the tunes and having them annoted) to "Oliver". It is kinda synchronies that the closeted homosexual Jew had his biggest success writing a musical about a Jew who lived with young boys.
None of which I knew in the winter of 1969, when "Oliver" -the Hollywood musical, played at the El Dorado movie house in Beirut. I was a boarder at Brummana High School, a very short 13 year old and, like my pals, immediately became obsessed with the movie over the Christmas Holidays. When I returned to the school there was a rash of pickpocketing -although not for keepsies. The tricck was to pick the wallet and return with a flourish and a "You've got to pick a pocket or two…"
It is a really great musical, actually, it is just about flawless. "Consider Yourself", "Reviewing The Situation", "I'd Do Anything" -the gods shined down on Lionel before drugs and alcoholism took him away, every song is great,
But at Christmas, just for nostalgia reasons, I do tend to watch movies from the ghost of Christmas's past. Ron Moody, the best Fagin ever, is still alive, but Oliver Reed -he was the step-father in "Tommy" is long gone =, so is Lionel Bart himself. And though the movie remains true to much of the spirit of Dickens' original, the colorful squalor of the poor. Moldy sausages, shut up and drink your gin, wife beating, murder, child labor Pretty hair raising stuff, but with so much deftness that the movie is simply a joy. It's not a Christmas movie so watch it today.