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|Index||15 reviews in total|
Oliver Twist, the novel by Charles Dickens, has had a long and unusual
relationship with the cinema. Adapted numerous times (this 1922 feature
was already at least the fifth), incorporating some major changes along
the way which have since become accepted in future versions. Viewers
today may be familiar the 1948 David Lean movie and the Lionel Bart
musical, but these contain several key differences from the novel. You
see, Oliver Twist was an early work by a young author, and its plotting
is not perfect. This faithful adaptation reveals those shortcomings,
reproducing all the far-fetched coincidence and convergence, and
removing any sense of danger from the finale by having Oliver safe and
sound rather than recaptured by the criminal gang.
Oliver Twist is a lengthy book and anyone wishing to adapt it has a lot of source material to pick and choose from. However for this version screenwriters (Walter Anthony and director Frank Lloyd) have attempted to cram in just about every subplot and minor character, quite a feat for a 74-minute runtime. As such there are a lot of title cards quickly glossing over some point, with characters popping up and disappearing without really being introduced. Because leading lad Jackie Coogan had found fame co-starring with Charlie Chaplin, there has been some attempt to comedy the picture up, and some half-hearted slapstick routines are the only real departures from Dickens. There's also a fair bit of en vogue cross-cutting, for example between the scene of Oliver play-acting with Mrs Bedwin and Brownlow's conversation with his friend over Oliver's character. It doesn't add much.
More promise lies in the look of the picture. The production design is fabulous with sets and costumes conjuring up the dilapidation and inequality of the era. It is especially appropriate for Dickens, rich with visual detail just as the author's work is rich with description of place and person. Director Frank Lloyd is one of the unsung heroes of this era, a great aesthetic shot composer with a painterly eye. At a time when it was really becoming commonplace to have the camera pan and tilt to follow the actors, Lloyd liked to explore the psychological effect having a character disappear off screen while the camera remained still. A fine example here is when Sykes pushes Nancy to the floor, shoving her out of the shot, revealing Fagin's concerned face in the spot where she stood. Some have dismissed Frank Lloyd as a conservative for the lack of movement in his pictures, but here we can see he uses a lot of point-of-view shots, before they really became standard. He is also pretty imaginative with his inserts, such as the one of Bullseye the dog scrabbling at the door, which was copied in a few later version of Oliver Twist. Meanwhile a lively editing pattern keeps things moving.
These days, many an adaptation of Oliver Twist is judged more than anything else on the strength of its Fagin. In this case, it was an early make-up part for horror king Lon Chaney. Chaney did his own make-up, and he has sensibly resisted making Fagin too grotesque or stereotypically Jewish (compare Alec Guinness in 1948, and cringe). Apart from the occasional shift of the eyes, this is largely a physical performance, with Chaney conveying great presence and character in his body language. As he would with many of his characters he brings out the forlornness over the overtly evil, beginning a tradition of increasingly sympathetic Fagins in successive screen versions. Chaney is unfortunately one of the few delights of the cast however. Jackie Coogan was the first major child star, but he is a disappointment here, with Lloyd failing to conjure up any of that magic that Chaplin found in him. I'm normally impressed by ubiquitous every-villain George Siegmann, but frankly his appearance as Bill Sykes is just lazy typecasting, and his performance is lacklustre. One saving grace is that, by the standards of the day, the acting is quite natural and restrained. Gladys Brockwell (Nancy) is very good in this respect, emoting well, although sadly her part is underused here.
This 1922 version of Oliver Twist is a mixed bag. On the one hand it's visually impressive with some truly memorable set-pieces such as Sykes's rooftop fall or Fagin alone in his cell. On the other it is structurally rather chaotic, full of hasty plot lines that don't get the development they require. This problem is something future adaptations would address. It's intriguing though how the looks of characters and the unfolding of key scenes are remarkably similar from one movie version to another. And this is where the talent of Charles Dickens shines through the bold twists, catchy dialogue, and larger-than-life figures that have made his work such a source of inspiration for the screen.
With a good cast headed by Jackie Coogan and Lon Chaney, plus decent
atmosphere that conjures up the sights of Dickens' world, this version of
"Oliver Twist" works well. The Dickens story makes wonderful movie
material, but it is also quite melodramatic, and for a film version to
succeed requires convincing characters and a believable recreation of the
world of the novel. Coogan, Chaney, and director Frank Lloyd all get the
Coogan was of course the best and obvious choice in his day to play Oliver. But Chaney, although much more limited in his screen time, is even more memorable. Fagin is the kind of role that Chaney most excelled at. His make-up, mannerisms, and gestures are all impressive, and it is amazing the way that without dialogue he can so quickly and efficiently define his character's relationships with the other characters. The rest of the cast are mostly lesser-known names, but they all do a good job of establishing their characters, too. The settings are a bit plain at times, but are always consistent with the story, and they do the job of showing us the varied places where Oliver lived the different stages of his young life.
There have many versions of the Oliver story, and the terrific David Lean version from the 40's is still the one by which all others should be measured. But this is a good adaptation, and it has almost everything you could ask for in a silent version of the story.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Even though Jackie Coogan was one of the top stars of the twenties only
a handful of his films were top class productions. All of his films
were carefully supervised by John Coogan Snr., who kept budgets to a
minimum and Jackie's salary up. It was very unusual to see a top
director or a noteworthy star's name on the credits. Joan Crawford was
in "Old Clothes" but that was one of her first films.
"Oliver Twist" was a rare exception. Directed by Frank Lloyd, who went on to win a Best Director Academy Award for "The Divine Lady" and "Cavalcade", he also directed "Mutiny on the Bounty" which won Best Picture for 1935. The cast also included Gladys Brockwell as Nancy, Esther Ralston as Rose Maylie, George Siegmann as Bill Sykes and the magnificent Lon Chaney as Fagin.
"Despised by all - pitied by none" is the title that introduces this rather good atmospheric version of the classic book. There is a real effort to bring about the dinginess and poverty of 19th century London.
Oliver Twist is a drudge in an English work house. After having the temerity to ask for more food he is taken on as an apprentice under taker. When Noah Claypole says some horrible things about his mother, Oliver runs away to London. (There is a scene taken from "David Copper field" as Oliver trudges the 75 miles to London town.)He then meets the Artful Dodger, who introduces him to the evil Fagin (the masterly Lon Chaney) who has a den of thieves.
Meanwhile Mr. Bumble has discovered things about Oliver's mother - that she was from a wealthy family because of a gold locket she had when she died. Oliver is taught to be a "pickpocket" but is caught on his first job. He is taken to Mr. Brownlow's house where he is looked after because Mr. Brownlow thinks Oliver is decent and good. While sent on an errand of trust he is kidnapped by Nancy, claiming to be his sister. He is then sent out on a job with Bill Sykes but while trying to warn the sleeping victims he is shot by Sykes. He is taken in by the Maylies but Fagin is plotting Oliver's return. Nancy goes to the Maylies to tell of Oliver's danger and together they bring about Fagin's downfall.
This is an excellent adaptation that holds up well due to the grand supporting cast. George Siegmann can add Bill Sykes to his gallery of villains (he even looks like the original illustrations from Dickens). He was one of the best "heavies" of the silent screen. From Silas Lynch in "Birth of a Nation" to the terrible Von Strohm in "Hearts of the World", he was from the Griffith stable of actors. Gladys Brockwell is also very good as Nancy. She was a very popular and extremely busy actress who died in 1929 as a result of injuries caused by a car accident. Lon Chaney is superb as Fagin, inhabiting the character of the evil, dirty procurer of young boys to be taught the art of thieving.
Jackie Coogan is very cute in the title role and occasionally some of his tricks are bought out (cartwheeling for a bored aristocrat, mimicking the pickpocket game and pretending to be an old gentleman.) As another reviewer said he was the best and obvious choice to play Oliver.
Actually, the "best" version is a matter of opinion, whether you prefer the 1922 Frank Lloyd version, the 1948 David Lean version, the 1968 Carol Reed musical version, or the 2005 Roman Polanski version. But there is little doubt that the 1922 version is the "best" in terms of being the most faithful to Dickens' original novel, virtually every major character and subplot is included with little in the way of changes, quite a feat for a 74-minute movie. I rank it alongside of the 1951 version of Scrooge with Alistair Sims and the 1948 version of Great Expectations as one of the finest adaptations of Dickens on screen.
I eagerly popped this DVD into my player because I've always been captivated by early still and motion photography. I was pleased with the beauty of this silent film: some scenes have a brownish color cast resembling a calotype while others look bluish like a cyanotype. This film follows the novel closely, so dickensians and purists should like it. Lon Chaney is convincing as Fagin, and child star Jackie Coogan - who enjoyed a resurgence later as Uncle Fester on "The Addams Family" - earns the sympathy of the viewer. There are the usual histrionics for this period: this is a silent film, and so they come with the territory. Highly recommended to those who like silent films. A must-see for Dickens devotees and Chaney completists.
OLIVER TWIST (First National Pictures, 1922), a Sol Lesser production,
directed by Frank Lloyd, is another one of many screen adaptations
taken from Charles Dickens' immortal story. Dickens himself described
it best in a reprinted passage displayed during the opening credits:
"When that tale was first published, I fully expected it would be
objected to on high moral grounds. It set a very coarse and shocking
circumstance that among the characters in my story, I had chosen from
the filthiest, most criminal and degraded of London's population. The
character of Sikes is a thief, Fagin a receiver of stolen goods, the
boys are pick-pockets and Nancy is a prostitute. Yet I saw no reason,
when I wrote the book, why the dregs of life, so long as their speech
did not offend the ear, should not serve the purpose of a moral. In
this spirit, I wished to show in little Oliver the principle of Good
surviving through every adverse circumstance and triumphing at last
among what companions I could try him best."
In the now familiar story for anyone who's either read the literary tale or seen the latter screen or made for TV adaptations, the introduction begins with a woman, reportedly found lying on the street and taken inside a workhouse by a Mrs. Thingummy, having given birth to an infant boy. The mother dies, and the old hag, noticing an expensive looking locket in the dead woman's possession, takes it before arranging for the orphan to be sent away and raised in a workhouse. Nine years later, the boy, known to all as Oliver Twist (Jackie Coogan), living on charity along with other workhouse orphans, lives a cruel and abusive life doing two days work in one under strict supervision of Bumble the Beadle (James Marcus). When asking for more gruel/porridge for supper, as punishment, Oliver is confined to his room where the hungry boy dreams of food, glorious food. Later taken to Mr. Sowerberry (Nelson McDowall) where he's to work an undertaker's apprentice, Oliver is further tormented by Noah Claypool (Lewis Sargent), a fellow workmate, through comments said about his deceased mother. A fight ensues, causing Oliver to be put away in a gloomy room. Seeing a way out, he escapes and journeys towards London so not to be sent back to the dreaded workhouse. After seven days of begging for money and food, Oliver finally makes it to his destination where he meets Jack Dawkins (Edouard Thebaol), better known as "The Artful Dodger." Later introduced to Fagin (Lon Chaney) and placed in his Field Lane slum apartment for food and lodging, Oliver, now in the company of thieves, including Bill Sikes (George Siegmann), Fagin's henchman; and Nancy (Gladys Brockwell), Bill's woman; the boy is taught a game of stealing. Oliver is later arrested for stealing while at the same time a stranger named Monk (Carl Stockdale), with some possible connection to Oliver's family history, comes searching for him.
Other members of the "all-star cast" include Aggie Herring (Mrs. Corny), Joan Standing (Charlotte); Esther Ralston (Rose Maylie); Taylor Graves (Charles Bates); and Eddie Boland (Toby Crackitt). Lionel Bellmore, who plays Mr. Brownlow here, would assume another role as Mr. Bumble in the 1933 sound adaptation to OLIVER TWIST (Monogram, 1933) starring Dickie Moore.
In spite of its age and this being a silent movie (with most circulating prints with organ score by John Muri, and you-tube edition with scoring that leaves impressionable thoughts of being played on a toy piano), this 1922 76 minute edition holds up quite well for film buffs, thanks to Lloyd's authentic direction of 19th century London setting believably captured on screen. Though it would be logical for Lon Chaney's bearded Fagin, giving that character actor Tully Marshall feel to it, to steal every scene he's in. He does, but many of the film's best moments belong to little Jackie. It's certainly hard to forget his sad face emotions capturing the essence of Dickens character, particularly one who's never experience happiness. Even in a courtroom scene where the accused thief is forced to stand on a platform as he fights dizziness and keeping his eyes open to what's happening around him, brings forth emotional pity, though not by his stern judges. Only when taken in by the wealthy Mr. Brownlow is he given that opportunity to find the true meaning of happiness and considering himself one of the family. After abducted back to the gang of thieves who strip him of his luxury clothing and revert him back to his former pauper looking appearance is quite an emotional impact for little Oliver, especially when in the clutches of the likes of Bill Sikes. No wonder Coogan became the most popular child actor of his time.
Once feared lost, a print was reportedly discovered in Yugoslavia around 1975. How fortunate to now have OLIVER TWIST available in our mist. Distributed to video cassette in the 1980s by Blackhawk and later Republic Home Video, it's latter distribution by Kino Video on VHS and later DVD format, with same organ scoring by Muri, contains some color tinting as well. After many years of obscurity, OLIVER TWIST was finally presented on cable television's TURNER CLASSIC MOVIES (TCM premiere: August 15, 2011) where it occasionally plays as part of its "Silent Sundays" festival. A worthy rediscovery of both film and Jackie Coogan from anyone wanting more. (***)
While not the best film version to me(the David Lean film), it is a very interesting one for reasons other than and as well as being silent. At 74 minutes though, I did think it was too short, and because it is such a lengthy and complicated novel with a lot going on, what was translated on screen, which was as much as possible seemingly, came across as too rushed with some characters disappearing before we even get to know them. However, it is absolutely great visually, the production design and lighting look wonderful and the atmosphere is beautifully evoked. The film is very well directed by Frank Lloyd, who manages to stage scenes, crucial or not, with much impact. Sykes' fall and Fagin alone in the cell were really well done, but the standout was Sykes pushing Nancy to the floor, a fine example I agree of where a character disappears replaced by another, in this case Fagin. The cast are fine. Most of the cast I am not as familiar as familiar with as the two big names, but they do their job well. George Siegmann seemed like typecasting to me but it is a job that he does well. Gladys Brockwell is a vulnerable and suitably brash Nancy, and the children are well cast. But this Oliver Twist is most memorable for Jackie Coogan and Lon Chaney. Coogan, who broke my heart in The Kid the previous year, is a sweet and innocent Oliver, while Chaney, looking great, gives a largely physical(relying a lot on gestures, facial expressions and mannerisms) yet commanding account of Fagin while avoiding the trap of making the character stereotypical. All in all, impressive visuals and a memorable Oliver and Fagin makes this an interesting and well-done if not definitive Oliver Twist. 8/10 Bethany Cox
In Victorian England, young "Oliver Twist" is born in poverty. His
mother dies and his father is unaccounted for (assuming you know the
story, this version drops hints). The innocent kid grows into Jackie
Coogan (as Oliver Twist). A sprightly waif, young Coogan is sent to a
workhouse and gets in trouble for requesting more gruel. Running away
from abusive conditions, Coogan heads for "polluted" London. He meets
"The Artful Dodger" Edouard Trebaol (as Jack Dawkins) and joins a gang
of boy pick-pockets led by the crafty old Lon Chaney (as Fagin). The
shriveled scoundrel's henchman George Siegmann (as Bill Sikes) and his
woman Gladys Brockwell (as Nancy) come to play an important part in
Sol Lesser and the Coogan family correctly saw Charles Dickens' classic story as an excellent vehicle for their young star, who adds a touch of his own personality to the character. This major production was found and restored in the 1970s. Another famed version, Paramount's 1916 "Oliver Twist" starring Marie Doro is presently unavailable. Although Ms. Doro is miscast for more than one reason, it would be nice to see her "Oliver" in circulation. That "all-star" version featured a cast even more acclaimed (for the time) than this one; notwithstanding the presence of Mr. Chaney, of course. Carl Stockdale (as Monks) plays his role in both. This film is a great one to see if you're not familiar with "silent" films, but know the Dickens.
******** Oliver Twist (10/30/22) Frank Lloyd ~ Jackie Coogan, Lon Chaney, George Siegmann, Gladys Brockwell
Oliver Twist (1922)
*** (out of 4)
Frank Lloyd directed this version of the Charles Dickens story with Jackie Coogan as Oliver, Lon Chaney as Fagin and Lionel Belmore as Mr. Brownlow. I believe this is my first film version that I've sat all the way through so I have nothing to compare it to but I really enjoyed the film. The movie flows at a very fast pace with some nice laughs and good drama. Coogan is delightful as Oliver and the rest of the supporting cast does a terrific job. Chaney is ideal as Fagin and pulls the role off perfectly. His make up is some of the best work I've seen from him and that's saying quite a bit considering the upcoming roles he would go on to do.
There have been many versions of Dickens' story, "Oliver Twist". While
I have not seen them all, I have seen the very famous David Lean
version as well as the musical "Oliver!". Despite being handicapped by
a shorter running time and being a silent, the 1922 version stayed
amazingly close to the original story and included some sub-plots that
are usually omitted in films. I don't think these omissions in later
films are necessarily bad as Oliver being shot and Mr. Monks were not
vital to the success of the films. But, if you are a purist, then
you'll probably love this early version.
I will not try to recap the story. You probably know it already and it's one of the most well-known stories in the English language. Instead let's talk about the film's merits and deficits. The film looks good. The costumes and sets are very nice and I like how ratty the kids' clothing looked--not like Hollywood costumes but like rags worn by the poor. The acting was also quite nice. Jackie Coogan sure looked pathetic and small--and that helped with the role. Also, Lon Chaney was given top billing and I worried that he might overdo the role of Fagin--putting too much into the role. But, he was just fine and the cast in general was quite good. The only deficit of the film is the running time. At a bit over 70 minutes, the story goes by a bit too quickly and I would have liked the film stretched out a bit more. But, as the overall film went very well, this is only the smallest of complaints. Well worth seeing and one of the better silents.
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