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  1. #1
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    The principle of Good



    David Lean's Oliver Twist (1948)



    Andrew Pulver

    Saturday April 10, 2004

    The Guardian



    Author: Charles Dickens (1812-70) was still a full-time political journalist when his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, was published, but by the time he started serialising Oliver Twist, his second, he had handed in his notice to the Morning Chronicle. Oliver Twist appeared in book form in 1838, still under Dickens's pseudonym Boz. It maintained Pickwick 's success, and Dickens went on to become the legendary man of letters of Victorian England. He died of a stroke in 1870.

    Story: In Oliver Twist, Dickens wanted to show "the principle of Good surviving through every adverse circumstance". The "adverse circumstance" was characterised by, first, a workhouse (Dickens, ever the journalist, was passionately opposed to the New Poor Laws of 1834) and, second, Fagin's gang. The "Newgate novel" - named after the notorious London jail - was a popular genre of the time, but Dickens refused to sentimentalise his criminals, having them dressed in rags and living in squalor.



    David Lean (1908-1991) made his directorial reputation as an interpreter of the words of Noel Coward, but began to define his own identity when he took on an adaptation of Great Expectations in 1946. The film won two Oscars and, against Coward's advice, Lean decided to tread the Dickens path again, attracted by its larger-than-life characters. Lean cast Robert Newton as Sikes (his alcoholism caused lots of delays to the shoot), his soon-to-be-ex-wife Kay Walsh as Nancy (she came up with the tormented opening sequence of Oliver's mother staggering over the moors) and the eight-year-old son of a screenwriter friend, John Howard Davies, in the title role. Alec Guinness had to work hardest for his casting - he'd played Herbert Pocket in Lean's Great Expectations, and was thought too young for Fagin, until he turned up for a screen test with his own make-up on and a false nose.



    How book and film compare: Inevitably, Dickens's weighty tome needed pruning. Lean favoured a fast, rhythmic cutting style that meant much of Dickens's rambling dialogue could be excised. Dickens's passionate authorial voice has disappeared, too, and with it much of the original's satiric intent. Lean, however, makes much of the dank alleyways and noisome garrets that provide many of the story's locales - no doubt touching a nerve with a British audience becoming inured to postwar privation. False-perspective sets and occasional expressionist camera techniques (notably a bruisingly effective point-of-view sequence that finishes with Oliver being knocked out) are key in establishing Lean's cinematic equivalent to the Dickens grotesque. The mood of artifice is set right from the start, with the wordless moorland scene of Oliver's mother out in a storm - filmed on a sound stage with clouds painted on glass.



    Inspirations and influences: Cruikshank's original illustrations were the starting point for the film's look, especially the make-up for Fagin. (Lean failed to anticipate that such a caricature would cause outrage in a world recently scarred by the Holocaust; the US release was held up for three years.) By accident or design, the chiaroscuro lighting draws a direct connection between primitive English crime fiction - of which Oliver Twist was a derivative - and contemporary film noir.

  2. #2
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    People tend not to mention the work of the composer of the film-score when talking about a movie.

    Oliver Twist boasts a lovely score by the, then, Master of the King's Music, Sir Arnold Bax.

    Apparently when the time came to record the score it was found that Bax had overlooked the music for a shot that required it. As the composer was present he wrote the passage straight away and the recording session went ahead unhindered-sheer professionalism!

  3. #3
    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    Must-have movies: Oliver Twist (1948)



    Marc Lee reviews the classics that every film-lover will want to own



    When David Lean embarked on another Dickens adaptation immediately after completing his marvellous Great Expectations, Noël Coward, who had co-directed the wartime classic In Which We Serve with Lean, thought it a terrible mistake. Mercifully, Coward's advice went unheeded.



    For Oliver Twist surpasses even Great Expectations. Thrilling, heartbreaking, technically astonishing, and crammed with unforgettable performances, it's one of Lean's finest achievements, and one of the best films of a particularly fecund period in British movie-making.



    It grips from the very start, as a young, heavily pregnant woman staggers across a terrifying, storm-lashed landscape towards the parish workhouse, where she dies bringing our hero into the world.



    This sequence - daringly, more than six minutes pass without a word of dialogue - was devised by Kay Walsh, aka Mrs David Lean, who appears in the film as the tragic Nancy.



    The scene depicting Nancy's death at the hands of psychopathic brute Bill Sikes is also breathtakingly powerful - and ingeniously realised. Rather than showing the assault, Lean focuses instead on Sikes's dog as it scrambles and scratches at the door, trying desperately to get out of the room. It's an utterly chilling sight.



    Robert Newton plays the drink-maddened Sikes with all the authority of an actor who actually was drunk for much of the shoot. He's the perfect Dickensian grotesque, and not the only one here: Francis L Sullivan is brilliant as the appallingly cruel Mr Bumble, but most memorable of all is Alec Guinness as the creepy, oleaginous Fagin.



    Guinness's make-up, which renders him unrecognisable, got the film into trouble in America, where the character was seen as anti-Semitic, and several scenes featuring Fagin were cut. (The prominent prosthetic nose was added after Lean decided Guinness was looking too Christ-like.)



    Guinness's performance, though, is inspired. Look out too for youngsters Anthony Newley as the Artful Dodger, a teenage Diana Dors as Charlotte, and, in the title role, eight-year-old John Howard Davies, who combines fragility and resilience with extraordinary assurance.



    The perfect casting is matched by the look of the film. The expressionistic sets - interiors and exteriors - induce vertigo, and the lighting - what there is of it - conjures up a dark, nightmarish mood. Squalor and deprivation have rarely been so realistically depicted; nor have goodness and the triumph of hope.

  4. #4
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    Originally posted by DB7@Apr 13 2004, 09:44 AM

    The principle of Good



    David Lean's Oliver Twist (1948)
    One of my earliest film memories on the telly and possibly one of the best films ever made. The black and white adds a sinister authentic quality, and the desperation and poverty of Victorian London hits home really well. With Messrs Newton and Guiness playing such fantastic evil characters it is almost a horror film, especially when Sykes strangles Nancy! Please don't let them remake this, no-one could possibly improve on near perfection!

  5. #5
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    Probably one of the best Brit films ever made and so authentic and atmospheric it feels almost like Dickens directed it himself!

  6. #6
    Senior Member Country: England faginsgirl's Avatar
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    Hi.



    This is an interesting documentary on the actors in David Lean`s Oliver Twist, including Robert Newton and his drinking problem on set, and also info on Alec Guiness. Its really interesting to hear how the opening scene was filmed too.




    xx

  7. #7
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    It certainly is - particularly the detail on the tilted camera angle, which I hadn't noticed before. Many thanks for drawing that fascinating documentary to our attention.



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    His transformation was amazing. In all the times I've seen OLIVER TWIST, I've never even given a thought to the fact that he was such a young man at the time the film was made.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Country: Australia IlllIIllllIIii's Avatar
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    I can't say this is my absolute favourite British Film but I rewatch it on special occasions to savour Lean's EXCELLENT handling of the tightened plot, the German Expressionist sets and all those over-familiar characters which a lesser director would have rendered as clich�s.

    I admit I try and avoid the anodyne blandness of Oliver and Mr Brownlow… and I do have to concentrate hard on Alec Guinness' eyes (behind that barrage of make-up) because I know they're alluding to lots of things which are being left unsaid.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Country: Australia IlllIIllllIIii's Avatar
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    I've read that David Lean had actors audition for the three major roles of Twist, Sikes and Fagin.

    I'm glad that Robert Donat failed his test for the role of Sikes but I wonder who else was auditioned for Fagin?

    I wonder how Abraham Sofaer could have done it.

    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-173MOblolQ...ham+Sofaer.jpg
    Abraham+Sofaer.jpg

  11. #11
    Senior Member Country: England darrenburnfan's Avatar
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    I think that Abraham Sofaer would have been far better as Fagin than Alec Guinness. David Lean wasn't as great a film maker as he was cracked up to be with regard to him making versions of the Dickens classics. He didn't seem to have any common sense and sorely needed someone at his side to tell him when things weren't right. For instance, forty minutes into Great Expectations, the 13 years old Pip (Anthony Wager) aged six years to 19 and was suddenly played by the 39 years old John Mills, who looked far too old to be a teenager and couldn't have looked older if he'd been wearing a trench coat; a trilby hat and been puffing on a pipe. It looked ridiculous and I can almost hear J. Arthur Rank at the first private screening of the film saying to Lean "For God's sake, Dave, what have you done? He looks no more 19 than I do!" As for Oliver Twist, again a bad decision by Lean having Alec Guinness wear that gigantic parrot's bill type false nose. It makes the whole part of Fagin look completely farcical. Lean didn't seem to have the sense to realise when something wouldn't look right on film. I think Carol Reed or Powell and Pressburger would have done a better job with these two roles at the time. The rest of these two films are excellent and it really does make me wonder how Lean could make two great films that were completely ruined by, in the case of John Mills, the wrong actor for the part and in the case of Alec Guinness, the wrong make up.
    Last edited by darrenburnfan; 20-09-14 at 08:05 AM.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Country: Australia IlllIIllllIIii's Avatar
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    ^ Yes I agree, in parts.

    But I think more blame should be apportioned to Charles Dickens rather than Davd Lean.

    Charles Dickens and his collaborator George Cruikshank created that �gigantic parrot's bill� nose which Abraham Sofaer could have so easily provided without makeup.

    And it was Dickens who produced such a very long episodic story in Great Expectations which requires two actors to play one role.

    Puberty is an insuperable barrier; I can only think of Ann Todd (in Seventh Veil) and Joan Fontaine (in Letter From An Unknown Woman) who convincingly traversed that barrier.

    Picture�
    http://www.szyk.com/historicana/prod...ana.php?id=141

  13. #13
    Senior Member Country: Jordan
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    I know I will be in a minority of one but I like Poloanski's version better. Just sayin

  14. #14
    Senior Member Country: Australia IlllIIllllIIii's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Hamilton View Post
    ... I like Poloanski's version better...
    Is it because you positively like Polanski? Or is it because you're less keen on Lean?

    I suppose Ben Kingsley didn't require all that putty that Alec Guinness used for Fagin's nose. And I agree that full colour cinematography gives more scope than monochrome.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Country: United States will.15's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by darrenburnfan View Post
    I think that Abraham Sofaer would have been far better as Fagin than Alec Guinness. David Lean wasn't as great a film maker as he was cracked up to be with regard to him making versions of the Dickens classics. He didn't seem to have any common sense and sorely needed someone at his side to tell him when things weren't right. For instance, forty minutes into Great Expectations, the 13 years old Pip (Anthony Wager) aged six years to 19 and was suddenly played by the 39 years old John Mills, who looked far too old to be a teenager and couldn't have looked older if he'd been wearing a trench coat; a trilby hat and been puffing on a pipe. It looked ridiculous and I can almost hear J. Arthur Rank at the first private screening of the film saying to Lean "For God's sake, Dave, what have you done? He looks no more 19 than I do!" As for Oliver Twist, again a bad decision by Lean having Alec Guinness wear that gigantic parrot's bill type false nose. It makes the whole part of Fagin look completely farcical. Lean didn't seem to have the sense to realise when something wouldn't look right on film. I think Carol Reed or Powell and Pressburger would have done a better job with these two roles at the time. The rest of these two films are excellent and it really does make me wonder how Lean could make two great films that were completely ruined by, in the case of John Mills, the wrong actor for the part and in the case of Alec Guinness, the wrong make up.
    I like Lean's Great Expectations better than his Oliver Twist. Does Mills look 19? No. But he looks considerably younger than his 39 years. He is short and still has a baby face. It is not hard to accept he is twenty something. There are plenty of movies with actors playing considerably younger than their years and they get by.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by IlllIIllllIIii View Post
    Is it because you positively like Polanski? Or is it because you're less keen on Lean?

    I suppose Ben Kingsley didn't require all that putty that Alec Guinness used for Fagin's nose. And I agree that full colour cinematography gives more scope than monochrome.
    Total bias in favour of the wee man but I like to think I have the critical facilities for some degree of partiality; Polanski, in my opinion, is a better story teller than Lean, the latter was too much of a show off and couldn't resist any opportunity to...well, show off (a tendency that got worse as he got older). I do accept that both are touched by greatness though

  17. #17
    Senior Member Country: Australia IlllIIllllIIii's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Hamilton View Post
    .... Lean, the latter was too much of a show off..
    Fair enough. He certainly showed off in that overlong and fatally-miscast Ryan's Daughter.

    I think I half-watched most of the Polanski version— mostly for Ben Kingsley's sake —but (as I mentioned in my first post on the subject) Dickens' characters are so over-familiar that it's hard for me to appreciate the story now at all. I felt Polanski's re-working of Dickens was as similarly stale as his version of Thomas Hardy.

  18. #18
    Senior Member Country: United States will.15's Avatar
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    Except for darrenburnfan, I can't find any reviews that finds fault with the casting of John Mills in Great Expectaions. The miscasting that is usually cited is Valerie Hobson, which I agree with, which has nothing to do with how old she is.

    I think Lean is a faultless story tell in his early films, but he develophed elephantitis later, an inability to tell a story simply at a normal length even if he was telling a simple story. George Stevens developed the same problem.
    Last edited by will.15; 13-10-14 at 01:10 AM.

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    It's not just the inflated scale of his later movies, it's the constant attempts to do something 'special' which technically might be very impressive but run contrary to the notion of storytelling and suspension of disbelief. I have the same problem with many of Hitchcock's movies. If you are thinking wow what an amazing shot or I wonder how he did that, you aren't fully engaged in the story.

  20. #20
    Senior Member Country: United States will.15's Avatar
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    I like that sort of thing as long as it doesn't overwhelm the movie, which sometimes happens with Orson Welles and very much the case with Ken Russell. That is my big problem with a lot of 1950s British movies. They are just photographed plays. Especially Ronald Neame movies, which is strange because he started as a cinematographer and does exemplary work for Lean. On his own, the acting is often excellent, but the staging is dull and so is the photography. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie looks like he did just a bunch of medium and close-up shots with no idea what the finished product would look like then just handed it to the editor to figure out. With Lean and Hitchcock, you can tell they had a visual plan. Even George Cukor has a better sense of camera movement and staging than Neame.

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