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‘It’s much, much more than a musical” – that’s the catchline of the Oliver! publicity, the much-trumpeted, almost all-British musical film directed by Carol Reed which opens tomorrow at the Odeon, Leicester Square. Does Oliver! live up to its claims?
The first half of the film is very musical and there’s a good deal that Dickens would blink at. Lionel Bart’s jolly tunes blast out the glories of stereophonic, multi-channel sound for most of the time until the interval. The children’s sweet unison voices are almost sufficient in themselves. The musical numbers form the backbone and, try as hard as he may with some elegant direction, Sir Carol seems forced to pay attention to the set pieces dictated by the music.
This is not to say that most of the items are not originally and sometimes memorably done (Boy For Sale and Consider Yourself) but too often – for my taste at least – they are overdone and even done to death. You’ve Gotta Pick A Pocket Or Two seems to drag long before the end of the song – yet yesterday’s audience treated it to happy-enough applause, much as they would have applauded at the end of a stage item, which may not be exactly what the director had in mind.
But at least this is a clue to his problem. In its nature the film can be so much more realistic. John Box’s sets are a considerable achievement in realism; so too are the costumes and even some of the acting. But the director is constantly obliged to make the transition to the unreal theatricality of song and dance, and on film it’s none too easy.
Until the second half. Then Sir Carol really makes things go his own way. The music (arranged by John Green) and the drama suddenly fuse. The final scenes – the murder of Nancy (a bouncy Shani Wallis) and the chase after Bill Sikes (a grim-bearded Oliver Read) through the sewers of London – take on an almost operatic quality. Here is some splendid camera work, chilling vertical shots and a degree of terror in a U-certificated picture that will as firmly imprint itself on the imagination of the young as did some scenes in Snow White more than a generation ago. Certainly Oliver! is more than a musical.
Source: The Guardian
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