To begin this Oliver Twist movie-watching extravaganza, I watched the classic (?) 1933 Oliver Twist featuring Dickie Moore.
I found this film a few years ago in one of those “15 Classic Movie” bulk film sets from Walmart but didn’t watch it until this project of mine. At first glance I thought to myself, “Oh hey. An oldie. This one’s bound to be accurate and generally meaningful.”
Oh, friends. I have learned not to judge a movie by its small image on the multi-movie DVD set cover.
*Warning: spoilers ahead. If you’re reading this, I’m assuming you know the basic story. If you don’t but don’t care, that’s fine too.*
> Generally Painful.
To accurately describe to you the failing character interpretation in this film, I must begin with the story’s namesake, Oliver Twist.
Dickie Moore is adorable, and I am guessing this is the reason he landed the role of Oliver. But my main question is: does he… act?
His lack of lines and frequent blank stares made me often forget he was a character in the film (let alone the main character). In the book, Oliver may be young, but he has depth. He knows when he is being treated with injustice. He struggles with being numb to the villainous world into which he has been dragged. He often recognizes the detriment of thievery and dishonesty, and he grieves over Fagin’s lack of repentance at the end of the book. He understands when others show him kindness, he is thankful and he is affectionate.
The 1933 Oliver was silent, obscure and fake cried very badly. His only good moment is during his iconic line, “Please sir. I want some more,” which he nailed with a doe-eyed look of hunger. Also, his hair is always on point (fashionably disheveled), so I’ll give him that.
In general, the other characters were dry, awkward or completely miss their “Dickens depth”:
- The Artful Dodger is played by a grown man and is bizarrely too formal, which defeats Dodger’s persona of the thief boys and their culture of lost innocence in a life of crime. Dicken’s Dodger was young but thought he was old. He was sly but still a child. He was an example of the children who have been robbed of childhood and given a life of jail-time and selfish relationships.
- Nancy’s representation really disappointed me. Her character has so much potential, as her story is one of repentance and a desire for redemption. Maybe it’s just how I pictured it, but I always imagined Nancy and Rose Maylie to be around the same age but with very different upbringings, creating a perfect juxtaposition between their resulted experiences and lifestyles. The film presents Nancy to be older and less of a mess than she is in Dickens’ novel, and Rose’s story is of course poorly developed (they’re too busy having Dickie Moore do irrelevant gymnastic moves at obscure times). They easily could have taken some creative liberty and compared Nancy’s struggle for reconciliation with Rose’s comfortable kindness, but alas, the film creators had to focus on more important things like Oliver scrubbing the floor for two minutes.
- Bill Sykes and Fagin were probably the two most accurate characters in the film- maybe villains are easier to play (I was the evil queen in a play once, and once I got that evil laugh down, it was cake). Still, the acting all could have used some work.
I could go on sharing about the many characters that disappointed me, but I’ll spare you.
> Stale but edible bread… with maybe a couple of spots of mold.
While I had many grievances with this film, the plot was ok. Dry and basic, but ok.
My main plot objection was the merging of two major families, Robert Brownlow’s and Rose Maylie’s households, into one. Both impacted Oliver’s character in unique ways that were missed by this oversight. I get it though- it was 1933, and they only had limited resources for limited screen time.
(However, the producers did seem to have enough time to focus on other major scenes like Bill Sykes trying to drown his dog and long, awkward stare-downs between characters.)
In addition, each family revealed that regardless of the many people in Oliver’s life who wronged him or used him, there existed two unconnected groups of people who were kind and selfless, each taking him in and caring for him at separate times.
This supports a message that I believe Dickens was trying to convey: despite much suffering and negative circumstances, there still exists love. In Oliver’s case, while he lived a generally lonely life, he still encounters compassion multiple times. This includes the little boy from his previous workhouse (toward the beginning of the book) who touches his heart with a word of “God bless you,” before Oliver leaves for London. (This of course was left out of the film along with the first 1/4 of the book.) Oliver is so touched by these acts that he mentions them at different times in the book. They impact who he is and who he becomes.
Also, there is no mention of Monks who is a critical character to the story. (Another person that apparently was less important than Oliver’s gymnastics routine.)
> “Please, sir, I don’t want any more.”
I laughed, I cried, but neither were in a good way. Just kidding, but seriously. It was pretty boring. And odd.
Why did everyone always talk so loudly and slowly? Is this just a 1930’s thing that I’m being harsh about, or what? It probably is, but it was excruciating.
It was like watching a bad play where people keep forgetting their lines and making over-dramatic facial expressions to compensate. Scenes painfully drag out (which is incredible since it’s such a short film with plot holes and missing characters).
> Like a brick.
If it’s possible for there to be very little creativity while simultaneously not staying very true to the story line, this film did it. They stayed rigidly by the book, but still left out emotion. Maybe that’s some form of art? I don’t know.
To be nice about something, the use of shadows in this film was one creative point with which I was impressed (!!!). They were used to show Dodger (it should have actually been Noah, a character that’s not in the film at all… which is fine, because he’s the worst) eavesdropping on Brownlow, Rose and Nancy’s meeting (which was actually sort of a hilarious scene, because how did they not notice the giant looming shadow next to them?). The other dramatic shadow scene was the murder of Nancy. Sykes and Nancy’s shadows interpret the situation well enough to give the audience a shock factor without offending everyone in 1933.
Other than that, a brick. No drop of Dickens’ subtle humor. No attempt to interpret any scenes with a little bit of extra emotion or personal conflict. Nothing.
> Can I stop reviewing this awful film now…
This is the part where I’d normally go into what I loved or hated about the interpretation of the protagonists’ decisions or the villain’s struggles, but…
It didn’t exist.
Maybe the producers didn’t read that deeply into the book, or maybe they just didn’t care. Either way, the only thoughtful bit I got out of the whole presentation is that no matter how bad your life is, everyone lives happily ever after (which, to be fair, is true for Oliver in the book, but we can’t get much higher to the surface than that… except maybe jumping out of the water entirely).
I can’t even write about this adaptation anymore. It’s hurting me.
If you’re watching this film to get out of doing your school reading assignment, don’t do it. It will leave you bored and with a C-.
Sorry if this was your favorite movie ever, and I hurt your feelings. You mean more to me than this (awful) film, and I’d be glad to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for reading!
The next movie adaption to tear apart is…
Coming soon to a blog post near you.