While this film is not especially well-remembered today, and has been eclipsed by practically all of the later film versions of the Charles Dickens novel, it did begin a Hollywood "fad" for Dickens that lasted for about five years. It was followed by Great Expectations (1934) (a poorly reviewed and now forgotten version with Jane Wyatt and Phillips Holmes), the classic MGM all-star David Copperfield (1935), Universal's Mystery of Edwin Drood (1935) (with Claude Rains), the classic A Tale of Two Cities (1935) - another MGM Dickens blockbuster - and MGM's 1938 A Christmas Carol (1938) with Reginald Owen. There would be very few versions of Dickens from Hollywood after that; most films based on Dickens' books would be made by British studios. However, notable exceptions have been the many versions of "A Christmas Carol" produced for American television. See more »
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This 1933 film is just adequate like a detailed synopsis of the story of OLIVER TWIST. Unlike the 1948 Lean/Guiness blockbuster, or the 1968 Reed/Moody treat, this one is so-so. I only comment on it for two reasons. First Dicky Moore played Oliver (not as well as John Howard Davies or Mark Lester in the later two films. Apparently the director and producer were looking for a child star to mirror the 1922 silent film version with Jackie Coogan as Oliver and Lon Chaney Sr. as Fagin. Moore was rather stiff in the role (as were most of the performers). The second reason is that unlike the 1948 version and the musical, this film did include one of Dickens' best written chapters: Fagin in the Death Cell.
Spoiler ahead - and I apologize as I have refrained from going into it in the two earlier comments.
Fagin discovers through a spy that Nancy had contacted Mr. Brownlow and endangered the entire gang to help Oliver. Angry, he goes to Bill Sykes and tells him this. Sykes hates informers, and is doubly betrayed because he has (in his rough way) loved and protected Nancy. Fagin (in the novel) encourages Sykes to punish Nancy in a way to demonstrate what happens to informers. Sykes kills Nancy.
A hue-and-cry goes up against Sykes. Brownlow tells the authorities what Nancy told him, so the law also goes against Fagin as well (also Monk, the secret enemy of Oliver). Fagin is arrested fairly easily in the novel. Sykes is killed in trying to flee the mob.
Now in Lean's film, Guinness as Fagin did not order the murder. In fact he told Sykes to be gentle with punishing Nancy. He is trapped as the mob is breaking down the door of the warehouse he has been hiding in. Guinness suddenly shows his grit and spunk and as the door crashes demands to know what right the mob has to destroy him. We last see him arrested and taken away.
In OLIVER, the musical had Fagin and the Artful Dodger manage to evade the mob, although Fagin loses the box of stolen jewelry and watches he has kept for himself. It falls into the Thames. Dodger pulls Fagin away. They see the end of Sykes, and then Fagin considers his options. He's getting too old for this type of life. Dodger is not that thrilled about it either (they've just barely escaped with their lives from a mob). Fagin decides it's time to reform. He and Dodger go off together, presumably to try to build up a safer, more respectable life.
In the novel, there is not second chance for Fagin. He basically ordered a hit by Sykes on Nancy, and he should pay for it. He is tried for her murder, There is no Sykes to share the odium with (possibly pass the blame onto). He barely understands the trial - he's in a state of shock. So he only vaguely understands when he is condemned to death.
We see him in the cell, and he is slowly going mad. He sees the evil acts he has committed in the past, and the lack of any friends to help him (including the Dodger, who was tried and sentenced to transporting to Australia in the novel). But hours before the end, Brownlow brings Oliver to see Fagin because the boy asks him to. It momentarily raises Fagin's hopes. He whispers to Oliver a weird plan to escape the noose outside, with Oliver pretending to lead Fagin out of the cell to safety. It's too much for Oliver, and the boy cries for God to forgive Fagin's soul. Brownlow takes Oliver out, and Fagin remains to be hanged.
Oddly enough the chapter only appeared in this version of 1933, as opposed to the 1947 and 1968 films. It is not done very well - again the stiffness of the actors ruins it, but it is shown. Also the moment of the execution is brought home to the audience, when, as Oliver and Brownlow leave the prison, a black flag is hoisted up the flagpole, symbolizing the death of Fagin.
For showing that particular moment of the novel at all, I'll grant this very inferior version a five.
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