Wednesday, July 30, 2008

OLIVER TWIST (David Lean, 1948, UK) David Lean’s second adaptation from a Dickens’ classic (see my review for GREAT EXPECTATIONS) lacks a coherent screenplay with too much focus on the antagonists rather than Oliver. The novel’s structure allows the introduction of many characters but the narrative thread is diluted in a two-hour film. The film never explains Monks’ relationship to Oliver: he’s just a stranger that seems interested in the reward. The plot also revolves around one great coincidence involving Mr. Brownlow and Oliver that does stretch credibility to the limit: what functions well in prose sometimes seems too obvious in film language. OLIVER TWIST begins like a gothic horror story with crippled branches silhouetted against a stormy sky and a lonely figure stumbling towards a dark gloomy house, each briefly revealed by lightning flashes. This lost woman gives birth to our scrawny protagonist and he is relegated to life in a workhouse, where life is terribly unfair and an extra portion of gruel is a shockingly cavalier demand. Guy Green’s black and white cinematography really shines with beautiful compositions: this dreary world seems to exist inside and outside the frame. He captures a low angle shot of the starving children in the workhouse starring through bars as the fat women enjoy a feast: it is eerily reminiscent of the hopeless victims of a Concentration Camp and is deeply moving. His deep focus photography reveals the artfully detailed set pieces and costumes, which bring 19th century London to life! The chase scene through the crowded and garbage strewn street of the city is choreographed perfectly and is one of the many technical highlights of the film. The acting is adequate but not outstanding and Alec Guinness as Fagin is too much of a caricature. Overall, a film that projects David Lean’s cinematic vision but loses focus on story and characters. (B-)

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