“All my dearest companions have always been villains and thieves”: Lionel Bart’s Oliver (1968)

Musicals.  An interesting genre, huh?  At one point they were rife.  However, these days it appears that Disney are the biggest champions of the musical.  Mostly animated characters expressing themselves with their dead eyes and dramatic hand gestures, with only the odd foray into the live action motion picture world.  Back in the day, it seems that every second picture was a musical.  Or at least that’s how it appeared during Bank Holidays.  As a youngster, enjoying those Bank Holidays, I was awfy fond of three musicals; Tom Thumb, Wizard Of Oz, and Oliver!  Truth be told, I’m still awfy fond of them.

The memories attached to those three are particularly strong.  Popular Festive Calendar flicks for the television companies, you could pretty much guarantee that we’d be sitting down to watch all of them over the school holidays.  Every year.  I never tired of them – mimicking characters and repeating lines while sharing the box of Roses or Quality Street that sat on the coffee table.  “That’s one for you… and two for me…” (that scene between Terry Thomas and Peter Sellars in Tom Thumb).

Anyhoo, when I spotted the Oliver!soundtrack among a bunch of undesirable records at the Record Fayre for £1 way back in October 2013 (I think), I didn’t hesitate to pick it up.  Y’see, as well as being a movie that I have a lot of attachment to, Lionel Bart’s songs here are really pretty incredible.  Hardly surprising, I guess (given Bart’s pedigree and the performances of some of the cast).

I’ve tried and it’s too difficult to pick out a favourite in an album of highlights.  My wife, however, still shakes her head when I reach for this LP.  Think again, I can hear her thinking as she scrolls through the spines of the LPs on the shelf and focuses her stare on something like The Fabulous Johnny Cash or even Neil Young’s Harvest (I still don’t think she’s warming to this one).  Anyhoo, me?  I reckon this is one of the very best musicals.

The late Ron Moody is stellar as Fagin and his performances here are rich, colourful, and full of character.  His tone and delivery on, say, You’ve Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two, immediately bring images of him on screen.  In fact, scrap that statement about hard to pick favourites, cause it’s easy – it’s Moody’s moments (this and Reviewing The Situation).  They’re just so enjoyable.

The ‘medley’ of Food, Glorious Food and Oliver! is memorable – I dare say most have whistled or sang the former while hurrying excitedly to the dining table, while Harry Secombe’s bellowed Boy For Sale is a dramatic shift in mood.  The strings convey dread and resignation… perhaps cause old Mr. Bumble hates roaming the street selling young kids.  Or he just doesn’t like bartering.  I actually really like Harry’s tune, though thinking about the scene is pretty grim.  As much as trekking the streets selling a kid probably isn’t a great deal of fun, there’s some really funny lines in there (“He’s going cheap… only seven guineas.  That or thereabouts”).

While Where Is Love? isn’t a bad song or anything, Lester’s vocal chops aren’t strong and I know that Moody’s Fagin is up next and we’re in for a treat!  See, it’s the introduction of Fagin and his gang that really lift proceedings and it’s at that point that the soundtrack (like the movie) comes to life.

There’s humour in the darkness of the themes throughout and, as I mentioned already, Moody’s performance as Fagin is really pretty brilliant.  He’s a shifty chap for sure, but he clearly likes the kids that he mentors.  While they’re obviously out stealing for him to earn a keep and what have you, they’re his family and you can see that with how he looks out for the new kid and his attachment to Dodger.  And this is all part and parcel of what makes Pick A Pocket Or Two so wonderful.  It’s jovial, the arrangements light and Moody’s delivery is magnificent.  Full of energy and hijinx.  Truly wonderful.

Mark Lester and Jack Wild’s Consider Yourself is another favourite.  Right now, it’s quite relevant too – welcoming strangers and such (“there isn’t a lot to spare.  Who cares!?  Whatever we’ve got we share!”).

Side 2 has the big hitters.  Moody’s back with Be Back Soon, which is relentless, really.  Fagin telling his proteges to fill their pockets, stay out of bother, and get back up the road for some kip.  Shani Wallis’ As Long As He Needs Me is a show stopper.  The kind that comes along like Bill Sykes and smacks you right in the gut and leaves you breathless.  I’m not talking Celine Dion (thanks, Canadialand) type emotion here, but the real heartbreak kind.  Dread.  Heart in mouth.  I’m going to be sick or cry kind.  The performance conveys the sheer devotion Nancy has to that (violent) bad bastard Bill Sykes.

I always liked Who Will Buy?  It’s the uptempo cheery number.  Probably the cheeriest, really.  Oliver awake in his new surroundings and looking out to a brand new day.  On yirself, Oli.

Anyhoo, moving on, it doesn’t get any better than Reviewing the Situation.  In fact (spoiler alert) the sub-plot here is as captivating as the age old tale of orphaned-lad-finds-happiness-with-rich-family.  It’s Fagin who really shines, with his insecurities and uneasiness comes to the surface a little more as he watches what’s happening around the young Oliver chap.  He longs to get out and, truth be told, he’d have given up this game years ago.  But the man has no family and these kids and the scoundrels (like the violent Bill Sykes) are all he has.  They keep him going.  They give him drive and purpose.  To feel important… wanted… loved… respected.  Anyhoo, Reviewing the Situation is all about that desire to get out and the insecurities that stop him.

I just realised that I don’t care too much for our lead character’s numbers.  Fancy that.  I don’t think they’re bad songs or anything like that, but they lack the vibrancy and the character of the others.  Mark Lester (a young lad, mind) doesn’t have the vocal chops or character to compete with the likes of Wallis, Secombe, or Moody.

And you know what, all that stuff I was saying about Fagin?  Well, Wallis’ wonderful Oom-Pah-Pah! is Nancy’s stand.  Creating a commotion that will allow them to do the right thing.  It all ends in heartache, though, but it’s rousing and joyous and it yet it’s tense.

Anyhoo, the Oliver soundtrack is a real joy.

Thanks for reading.

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40 Comments Add yours

  1. Well, who’d a predicted a return to the reviewing fray with a musical, J! Love the textured cardboard of the cover though I think I have some genetic defect that makes me hide behind sofas when musicals are mentioned. Can I have less, Sir?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      I tell you what, I’ll leave this musical right here and you can consume what you like, Bruce. Obviously I’d encourage you to take in all you can, but you can have a only a little slice of musical pie if that’s all you’d like.

      I probably should have specified that I’m not generally into musicals and normally roll the eyes when I see them… part of my story was that those three stuck with me, which highlights just how good they are.

      Also, the sleeve is actually glossy, which is disappointing.

      Like

      1. No offence meant, J. In fact I think I already knew you had a soft spot for Oliver! and good on you for it. Variety, spice, and all that.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. J. says:

        None taken, Bruce! Apologies if my comment suggested I had!

        But yeah, I had intended to write about this one for your film festival!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I wonder what Phil Collins was like as the Artful Dodger? And did he play the drums?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Aphoristical says:

    I didn’t really enjoy this as a kid – my granddad was into musicals so I got exposed to quite a few. Wonder what I’d think of it now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      It’s actually quite dark and I think the movie holds up quite well. It’d be worth giving it a watch just for Wallis and Moody. The two of them are captivating… and then there’s Mr Reed, who adds some menace.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. stephen1001 says:

    I was in the Wizard of Oz (twice!) as a youth – I’m less familiar with Oliver though.
    The soundtrack to the music man sneaks back onto the turntable from time to time ’round here!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      Twice! Amazing! Which character? Or characters?

      I’m not familiar with The Music Man. I know the film, but I don’t recall ever watching it… but there’s something nice about throwing a musical score on the stereo from time to time, eh?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. stephen1001 says:

        I was the ‘barrister’ in munchkinland in elementary school and got promoted to the ‘coroner’ seven years later in high school!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. J. says:

        What a promotion!!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. 80smetalman says:

    I have this DVD as well and the two songs you feature here are the best ones on the soundtrack. Personally, my favourite musical is West Side Story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      Oh! West Side Story is a good one. I haven’t seen it in a long time, right enough. Some very good numbers on there and a great story, too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 80smetalman says:

        Definitely. I mean they made a musical out of the subject of gang warfare but the song and dance didn’t take away from the dark message of the film.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Jay says:

    I never would have guessed it!
    My go to musical: Jesus Christ Superstar.

    I was in either 7th or 8th grade, and we “studied” it (or the lyrics anyway) in order to learn English. (yes, it was also a catholic school) – I still know all the words and I kind of love how familiar they are to me, comforting in an extremely non-religious way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      I haven’t seen that since… probably high school. Visually and musically striking. You know The Afghan Whigs covered The Temple? “My temple should be a house of prayer. But you have made it a den of thieves”. Could almost be a Johnny Cash or Kris Kristofferson lyric.

      Like

  7. The title of your post got my attention. I thought you might be going into a take on “Bad Bastards” like Bill Sykes. What do I get, exactly one of the reason CB does this thing we’re doing. Your personal take on something that you dig. It comes a cross loud and clear. I love the Dickens story ( Leans film is one of CB’s all time favorites). Never seen this movie and i like both Reed and Moody (12 Chairs). Does Reed sing? I liked his talk/singing in Tommy. CB is not a huge musical guy but I do have a few I like. Paint Your Wagon always gets trashed but some tunes in it, move me plus Lee Marvin singing, come on! Real good piece J. Bill Sykes is still the baddest of the bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      Thanks, CB – appreciated. Sadly there are no Reed numbers on here, but he does swagger about scowling and generally being a real bad bastard. He’s brilliant. Moody, as I’ve said, is the real draw here. So much so, I’d argue that you could cut some of Lester’s scenes and call the flick Fagin. Hurrah!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It would have been interesting to get Charles’s reaction to the whole musical thing. If you recall in Lean’s take they also did a little play acting with the pick pocket scene. I think I have the same love for the story as you.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. J. says:

        I haven’t seen the Lean version in a helluva long time (I’ll need to rectify that). From what I recall, Guinness also made a good Fagin.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. J, when you’re talking Guinness, he’s one of my favorite actors and his Fagen is carved into my mind. Robert Newton as Sykes is one of the top scariest film villains for CB. A favorite film.

        Like

      4. J. says:

        Guinness is one of mine, too. He was one of the best… and I have a pal in work who is also a big fan, so I get to discuss Guinness and all his awesome performances and anecdotes fairly often!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. He puts chills down my back when “the Traps” come to get him at the climax of ‘Oliver Twist’. Test of a good performance, I actually felt bad for the dirty old bastard. Seen most of his work. I could get into that conversation about Alec no problem.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Paul Kerr says:

    Got a bit of a soft spot for this one as I saw the movie when it came out and Bart’s songs (esp. Reviewing The Situation, Oom Pah Pah and Got to Pick a Pocket) were magnificent. Re musicals on LP my dad had a bunch of them and when I started to listen to records I had to resort to them until I could buy some of my own. I still like South Pacific and West Side Story. Unfortunately the one that was most played by the adults back then was The Sound of Music. These days I reckon you can’t beat a good old Threepenny Opera.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      South Pacific! That’s a good one… and a second mention of West Side Story and I hadn’t really thought about that one for a while. Record Fayre usually has the soundtrack stuff real cheap if you’re ever looking!

      Like

  9. jprobichaud says:

    I don’t even know what to say here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      Haha… no need to say anything, JP… just enjoy the tunes!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Chris says:

    Sounds like happy times associated with musicals in part thanks to TV re-runs! Breaking into song in a story I find a bit artificial, but I do enjoy a few of the classics such as The Sound of Music, All That Jazz, and Scorsese’s New York New York(which to me is a superior version of La La Land).
    I love Wizard Of Oz (since childhood) which was always about the fantasy and colorful characters for me, but you’re right, it is technically a musical. I somehow missed Oliver! and have added that one to my musical watchlist. Yes I’m that big a film geek with watchlists for each genre 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      Yeah, I can’t say I’ve enjoyed watching any musicals other than those three mentioned (Oliver!, Tom Thumb, Wizard Of Oz)… which is why I’ve been reluctant to watch La La Land.

      Wizard Of Oz is still one I watch as often as I can. Magical flick.

      And yes! I encourage you to check out Oliver! Even if it’s just for Moody and Wallis.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. DanicaPiche says:

    Wonderful review, J! I’m thinking I’ve never seen Oliver! and feel I must now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      Thanks, Danica! I’d highly recommend it… it holds up particularly well, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. 1537 says:

    This came out of left field a bit. Nice one!

    Mind you, I have to say ‘Guys & Dolls’ is THE musical!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      I like to mix it up.

      Guys & Dolls, eh? That’s just stage shenanigans, huh?

      Like

  13. Kid Slender says:

    My ex was suffering back trouble once and went to see an osteopath. It wasn’t until she met him that it occurred to her exactly who Dr M. Lester was. “I’ve been given a fondling by Oliver!”. When it comes to musicals you can’t beat One From The Heart. Coppola film with a fantastic Tom Waits/Crystal Gayle score. I recommend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      I’d forgotten he was an osteopath! Though that was likely because it was mentioned in an article where he claimed he was a sperm donor for Michael Jackson!

      One From The Heart has been on my list for a number of years. I really need to make an effort to get it watched.

      Like

  14. BuriedOnMars says:

    I haven’t seen this since I was a kid. My sister and I would sing ‘Food, Glorious, Food’ at supper time too! “More?!?! Did you say more?!?!!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      Yas!! We used to do that routine, too. My dad would do the over the top “whaaaaaattt!? Moarrrre!!”

      Liked by 1 person

  15. keepsmealive says:

    Wow good on ya for snagging that one so cheap, and for it being excellent. Myself, I burnt out on musicals to the point now where if my wife is playing her Hamilton CDs I gotta be elsewhere. I may come back around eventually!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. J. says:

      I don’t even know what Hamilton is!!

      But yeah, a few musicals made a lasting impression on me, but I admit that I avoid anything resembling a musical these days.

      Like

      1. keepsmealive says:

        Hamilton’s been a pretty big deal. My lovely wife loves it.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamilton_(musical)

        Still, good on ya for having some you still like!

        Liked by 1 person

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