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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
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.
This 1933 version of the Charles Dickens masterpiece is a true oddity. Featuring performances ranging from very good to hysterically bad, and camera work ranging from amateurish, with glimpses of visual artistry and beauty. Dickie Moore is a very young Oliver Twist, with the face of an angel, but zero acting ability. This fact didn't bother me as some of the faces this kid makes are just so hilarious and inappropriate for the scene he is playing, that you just gotta love him! It is actually an endearing performance. Sonny Ray, the actor who played the Artful Dodger had to be pushing 40, which also brought about some unintentional laughter. He also was utterly devoid of any acting talent whatsoever, which makes me wonder just why he was cast at all. However others fare much better here. William Boyd was quite effective and fearful as the sinister Bill Sykes, and Irving Pichel certainly looked the part of Fagin. Also worth mentioning is an actress named Barbara Kent, who played the part of 'Rose'. Again, no acting talent whatsoever, but she possessed that certain porcelain beauty that is associated with silent film stars, and she is delightful to look at here. It must not be forgotten that this is a 1933 production, and one of the first 'talkies'. This was a transitional time for cinema, as actors were still employing the techniques that were used during the silent film days, where body movements and facial expressions were greatly exaggerated in order to get the point across without spoken dialog. This kind of acting is sometimes present here, and i do not think it hinders the production. The best performance has to be that of Nancy Sikes, played wonderfully here by actress Doris Lloyd. She played that difficult part with the right measure of hardness, with a heart and a good nature kept well hidden from scoundrels Fagin and Bill. The fact that this has such a low budget lends this old film a spooky, sometimes surreal quality. There is some effective use of shadows and light. The dark, murky quality here makes Fagin and the others appear as sickly degenerates. And best of all it follows the Dickens story quite faithfully, omitting certain things for budget reasons, most likely. I love the story so much, and those who love to see these immortal characters come to life should get great enjoyment out of this film. This is the third film adaptation of Oliver that I have obtained. I enjoyed the Polanski version, and the David Lean version even more. So by the time I got around to this version it was just a pleasure to see all these characters that I know so well come to life in yet another production of this timeless story. Also the fact that this film is so old lends it another level of mystery and strange beauty somehow. Sometimes a low budget adds to the grittiness of the material. And this is one of the few versions that includes the final scene of Fagin in prison, where he is visited by Oliver, an important scene that is sadly missing from the David Lean version. For fans of the book and the other films, I recommend hunting down this lesser-known film version of a literary masterpiece. This should be a treat especially, for fans of the earlier days of cinema.
Most of the movies from the 30's I have seen have a "stage" look. This one is no different. The acting is not bad when compared to other period movies. It should be noted that "Talkies" had not been out that long when this movie was released. We tend to compare movies "back then" with "modern day" movies. There was notable plot and character development in early movies mainly because the special effects weren't very good if there were any at all. The acting was a theatrical type acting rather than cinematic. This was because of the connections to vaudeville that most actors and actresses had at the time. This is like the difference between a live Broadway Play and a Hollywood movie. As a "modern movie", this is a poor excuse of a movie. There is no graphic violence, no adult language, no space ships or aliens. If you want a movie that tells a story and will keep you wrapped up in a specific plot, you won't be disappointed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
***** Mild Spoilers Ahead *****
A mother dies and her infant son is cared for by by an unscrupulous man who sends him to a workhouse. Oliver Twist, now a young lad, escapes and runs away to London, where a band of thieves led by the crafty and incorrigible Fagin, whose specialty is taking young children and making pickpockets out of them, gets Oliver in his grip. A kindly and wealthy gentlemen ends up taking Oliver home with him, but once again the band of thieves gets Oliver in their clutches. The drama revolves around Oliver Twist and whether he will end up with the scoundrels or whether he can be saved by the kindly old gentleman. In case you don't already know the ending to this classic tale, I'll stop here and let you watch for yourself.
There are apparently numerous versions of Oliver Twist, which I have not seen. This one seems to be panned by critics as sub par.
Personally, I found the movie interesting and watchable, although it is nowhere near a classic. I liked the young actor who played Oliver. In fact, the movie was inhabited by interesting characters including Irving Pichel as Fagin, a memorable woman named Nancy, the young thief called The Artful Dodger, the old man who became Oliver's benefactor and his niece who lived with him as well as others.
Some comments have been that the acting in the movie was poor, but I humbly disagree on that point. I credit the vast majority of the movie's actors with doing a nice job of bringing their character's to life. The problem, I fear, lies with the director who obviously was into cheesy shots of the child smiling and inserting hammy silently movie style scenes that were overly dramatic and detracted from a movie which was unfolding rather nicely otherwise.
Oliver Twist gets a 70/100 on my scale, a C . It is an interesting vintage movie of the classic book, but it's nowhere near a classic. This version is probably best recommended only to vintage film aficionados.
When it was obvious talking pictures were not going to be a fad, it was
time to make sound versions of Charles Dickens' classics. In this case,
the adaptation of "Oliver Twist" (1922) starring Jackie Coogan and Lon
Chaney appears have been the inspiration. This revision comes from the
low-budget "Monogram" studios and, while this is clearly what they
would have considered a prestige production, today it comes across as
There was obviously no time for the director and performers to do more than block scenes. Some of it looks like a dress rehearsal. Most unapprised of all is "Little Rascal" Dickie Moore in the title role. However, "Oliver Twist" is actually a very difficult role to play. You have to be a young boy who can play it without gin, sex, or a beard to twirl.
***** Oliver Twist (2/28/33) William J. Cowen ~ Dickie Moore, Irving Pichel, William 'Stage' Boyd, Doris Lloyd
This was the second "Oliver Twist" movie version I got to see. The
first one I saw was the 1948 version. In comparison, I think that this
1933 version is neither inferior neither superior to the 1948 version,
just different. It's an interesting alternative to the 1948 version,
though, although (admittedly) that one is more detailed and more loyal
to the book. The 1933 version moves at a faster pace. As a result, it
is considerably shorter. This version is also clearly made under a
cheaper budget while the 1948 version looks more expensive, but this
fact doesn't bother me.
The 1933 version isn't yet the first movie adaptation of this familiar story, however it had the merit of being the first sound version. In this version, Irving Pichel plays Fagin and frankly I prefer him over the 1948 version's Fagin who is just too ugly and creepy. At least Fagin here is nowhere near as creepy. The controversial William "Stage" Boyd stars as Bill Sikes in this version. Comparing to the 1948 version's Sikes, this Sikes looks much bigger and more intimidating although more delicate in his speeches.
I like Dickie Moore as Oliver Twist. Even though John Howard Davies plays Oliver Twist with more feeling and his acting seems more realistic, I don't think that Dickie Moore is any inferior. His performance is just different. Dickie Moore is perfectly cute although he is a quite young and tiny Oliver Twist. True, sometimes he makes hilarious faces which aren't appropriate for the scenes he is performing, but I find that rather amusing instead of something to criticize and I like him for that.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Oliver Twist" certainly proved to Monogram that even an independent
studio could make good films based on classic literature. It paved the
way for Monogram and they made several films from well known classic
novels - "Black Beauty" (1933), "Jane Eyre" (1934), and "The Moonstone"
(1934), even moving on to Gene Stratton Porter "A Girl of the
Limberlost" (1934) (a huge moneymaker for them) and "Keeper of the
Orphaned Oliver Twist (Dickie Moore) is placed in a workhouse "school" - the emphasis being on work!! What with scrubbing floors and being underfed the spirited boy has the temerity to ask for more!!! After the workhouse is thrown into an uproar Oliver runs away - in a scene identical to the 1922 Jackie Coogan film, Oliver performs cartwheels and handstands for the entertainment of a passing coach. Weary and footsore he reaches London and is at once swept into the den of the evil Fagin. He runs a gang of young thieves and it isn't too long before Oliver is in the streets trying to "pick a pocket or two". He is caught by Mr. Brownlow, who takes him home and treats him as one of the family. Fagin and his cronies are working to recover him and when Oliver is sent on an errand to the bookstall, Nancy (Doris Lloyd) seeks him out, claiming he is her brother. Nancy sees in Oliver an innocent child, as she once was, and is determined to save him and return him to his guardian, Mr. Brownlow.
For a poverty row film this is an entertaining adaptation. The general story of Oliver Twist is there and because it was made before the code, it has all the grittiness and realism of the original book. There is a harrowing scene when Nancy is murdered, that is shown in silhouette and another one where Sykes tries to drown his faithful dog "Bullseye" but the dog escapes. Both Boyd (Sykes) and Pichel (Fagin) are excellent in their roles.
Dickie Moore, one of the least cloying of child actors, was given the biggest role of his career as Oliver. Irving Pichel (before he settled in as a director) was a quirky character actor. William "Stage' Boyd usually played detectives or lawyers - his main claim to fame was having the same name as William "Hopalong Cassidy" Boyd. "Stage" lived a wild life (he eventually died in 1935 due to alcohol and drug abuse). When stories started to come out about him in the papers - "Hopalong Cassidy's" picture was used and his career was almost derailed. Barbara Kent's (who is still alive) most famous film was "Flesh and the Devil" - she was the "good" girl as opposed to Greta Garbo's "bad" girl. She was also the girl in "Lonesome" an important silent film, similar to "The Crowd" and directed by Paul Fejos. After that film she did nothing more of interest. Even though one reviewer questioned her acting ability - as Rose Maylie she wasn't called on to do anything other than stand around and look beautiful, which she did. Funnily enough Nelson McDowall and Virginia Sale were mentioned in the cast as playing the Sowerbys but they did not appear in the film I saw.
This poverty row adaptation (courtesy of Monogram) of the Charles Dickens classic has about as much finesse as a school pageant, despite the appearance of old pros like Irving Pichel (as Fagin) and Lionel Belmore (as Mr. Bumble). As a matter of fact, while the film has a couple of choice moments in its second half, any good intentions are done in by some serious miscasting: an overage Artful Dodger (Sonny Ray) and Nancy (Doris Lloyd) and, worst of all, an unsympathetic Oliver (Dickie Moore). Rather than proving an asset, its short running time (70 minutes) gives a careless, rushed air to the proceedings and ensures a total absence of the visual poetry which marked David Lean's definitive 1948 version.
For me, David Lean's film is still the best version of Charles Dickens' great novel. However, while flawed this 1933 version is worth seeing at least for curiosity value. It is too short at 70 minutes, and feels rather rushed narratively. Dickie Moore is cute as Oliver but looks comfortable and his performance consists of a lot of overdone facial expressions. I also didn't find the performance of Artful Dodger very believable either, Sonny Ray might have made a good Fagin but he is too old as Dodger. However, while slightly stagey at times dramatically, it is hardly cheaply rendered visually. And there are a handful of good performances. Lionel Belmore is a decent Mr Bumble, if never really erasing memories of Harry Secombe and Francis L. Sullivan, and Alec B. Francis a humble Mr Brownlow. But the three best performances are Doris Lloyd as a hard-edged but vulnerable Nancy, William Boyd as a frightening Bill Sykes and Irving Pichel as a suitably oily Fagin. So all in all, not one of my favourite Dickens, but better than anticipated, better than the 1934 version of Jane Eyre anyhow. 6/10 Bethany Cox
OLIVER TWIST (A Monogram Special, 1933), directed by William J. Cowan,
stars child actor Dickie Moore (courtesy of Hal Roach Studios) in his
first leading role in a feature film presentation. As much as this
Charles Dickens based story had been told and retold numerous times
during the silent era, with notable screen adaptations being Paramount
(1916) with Marie Coro (Oliver) and Tully Marshall (Fagin); and First
National (1922) starring Jackie Coogan (Oliver) and Lon Chaney (Fagin),
it would be a matter of time before the movie audiences would get some
more OLIVER TWIST, this time with sound. While major movie studios as
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, RKO or Universal might have started the trend of
Dickens novels transferred to film, the interesting fact was that the
aforementioned major studios were the ones to follow Monogram's poverty
row distribution of 1933. Universal provided GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1934),
while MGM produced two of the finest of Dickens 1935 adaptations of
David COPPERFIELD and A TALE OF TWO CITIES, and three years later, A
Christmas CAROL (1938), but this I.E. Chadwick's production for
Monogram, very much on a low-budget scale, might prove worthy in spite
of disappointing presentation.
Following the opening credits, the fade-in begins with an open book on the first page to CHAPTER 1 that reads: "Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons, it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning: there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small to wit, a workhouse, and in this workhouse, was born the item of mortality whose name is prefix on the title of that chapter." The story then revolves around a young lad named Oliver Twist (Dickie Moore), an orphan in 19th century England, raised by a Mr. Bumble (Lionel Bellmore, who played Mr. Brownlow in the 1922 version), who, on his ninth birthday, puts him to work in a workhouse. After running away from slave labor and deprived of more food to eat, he journeys towards London where he encounters the likes of various people, including the Artful Dodger (Sonny Ray), Fagin (Irving Pichel) and his gang of thieves consisting of Bill and Nancy Sikes (William Boyd and Doris Lloyd); Charlie Bates (George Nash); Toby Crackit (George K. Arthur); the kindly old Mr. Brownlow (Alec B. Francis) and his pretty niece, Rose Mayley (Barbara Kent), through some twist of fate would all become part of his life.
Though many feel Dickie Moore to be both miscast and way too young in the title role, this edition to OLIVER TWIST has become his most memorable, though not fascinating. Regrettably, his performance somewhat weakens the story through scenes involving him appear to be seemingly under rehearsed. Moore reads some of his lines with no expression, as if he's reciting them for the first time. In one scene he's scrubbing the brick floor of the dining room, slips down by accident, then smilingly looks towards the camera range, loses his smile, carries his water bucker and walks away. Brutal beatings are depicted by shadows of actors hitting of whipping the floor rather than their victims. The meeting place under the London Bridge at midnight involving Nancy, Mr. Brownlow and Rose as properly captured by moments of their shadows on the wall, but in spite of this being a secret meeting, Nancy should have conversed in a whispering fashion rather than loud enough for all, including one of Fagin's spies, to hear. It's hard not to notice where Moore's face, in close up, to be covered with watery tears, and next long shot, face to be clear and dry.
Aside from faults and goofs that might have been rectified before its theatrical release, as well as elimination of certain major characters from the Dickens novel, one of the stronger aspects for this production is Irving Pichel (courtesy of Paramount Pictures). Assuming a role previously portrayed by the legendary Lon Chaney a decade ago, Pichel offers an fine re-enactment as Fagin. Doris Lloyd's Nancy is believably likable and sympathetic while William Boyd (not the Hopalong Cassidy actor) is quite intense as the menacing villain who kills without mercy. He certainly must have gotten some hissing and booing from movie audiences back in the day for a scene where he attempts to kill Nancy's dog, Bullseye.
Contrary to movie remakes, it would be a matter of time before OLIVER TWIST would be retold on the screen again. Two superior adaptations followed, the 1948 David Lean British made production, and the 1968 Columbia musical adaptation to the Broadway play that won Best Picture of that year. Once watching those, it's often hard referring back to the Dickie Moore version, which, with slow pacing sans mood musical score giving it that early talkie 1929 feel, would be an endless 70 minute bore for contemporary viewers. Initially released in theaters with opening image of Charles Dickens on the book cover of "Oliver Twist," circulating prints replace that with different title placing Irving Pichel's name next to Dickie Moore's above its OLIVER TWIST title. Unseen on broadcast television since or about 1973, OLIVER TWIST, which has fallen to public domain, became readily available again in the 1980s on home video, cable television (CBN, Nickelodian's 1988-89 presentation of "Nick and Night" Movie) and public television (part of its weekly series titled SPROCKETS) before its latter transfer onto DVD, and so forth.
While this and Monogram's follow-up literary tale of Charlotte Bronte's JANE EYRE (1934) with Virginia Bruce are not perfect screen adaptations to become one of the family, it would be the major studios and made for television movies that would over the years transcribe these stories again, to much better results. (**1/2)
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