Oscar: Best Picture–Oliver! (1968)

Oliver! Oliver! Oliver! Oliver!

The distinguished British filmmaker Carol Reed, better known for his psychological thrillers (“The Third Man”), directed this musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s famous serialized novel, “Oliver Twist.”  Before it became a movie, the novel was a huge success as a stage musical in London and Broadway. The transfer from stage to screen is only half-successful due to the tendency to soften and sentimentalize Dickens’s harsher treatment of the subject of poverty and orphans.

Only Oliver Reed (who incidentally is director Carol’s nephew) as the brutal Bill Sikes and Ron Moody as Fagin (who created the role in the original 1960 London production) hit the right notes, though child actor Mark Lester and Shani Wallis as Nancy are pleasant enough.

However, Lionel Bart’s music is uneven, and the staging of the production numbers is skillful but not particularly exciting.

It was hard not to notice that most of the Best Picture nominees in 1968, a year in which the country was engaged in the Vietnam War, were set in the past, suggesting that the Academy voters might have opted for escapist rather than relevant and timely entertainment.


Fagin (Ron Moody)

Nancy (Shani Wallis)

Bill Sikes (Oliver Reed)

Mr. Bumble (Harry Secombe)

Oliver Twist (Mark Lester)

Artful Lodger (Jack Wild)

Magistrate (Hugh Griffith)

Mr. Brownlow (Joseph O’Connor)

Widow Corney (Peggy Mount)

Mr. Sowberry (Leonard Rossiter)


Oscar Nominations: 11

Picture, produced by John Woolf Director: Carol Reed Screenplay (Adapted): Vernon Harris Actor: Ron Moody Supporting Actor: Jack Wild Cinematography: Oswald Morris Score of a Musical Film (Original or Adapted): John Green Art Direction-Set Decoration: John Box and Terence Marsh; Vernon Dixon and Ken Muggleston Film Editing: Ralph Kemplen Costume Design: Phyllis Dalton Sound: Shepperton Studio

Oscar Awards: 5

Picture Director Art Direction-Set Decoration Score Sound

Honorary Oscar to Onna White for her outstanding choreography achievement

Oscar Context

In 1968, “Oliver!” was not the only musical vying for the Best Picture Oscar. The other nominee was William Wyler’s screen adaptation of the Broadway hit, “Funny Girl.” It would take another 22 years for another musical, “Chicago” in 2002, to nab the Best Picture Oscar.

These musicals competed with two historical dramas, “The Lion in Winter” and Zeffirelli’s rendition of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The fifth nominee featured Paul Newman directorial debut in the intimate drama, “Rachel, Rachel, starring his wife-actress Joanne Woodward.

Carol Reed established international reputation with two extraordinary suspense films, both based on Graham Greene’s novels: The Fallen Idol, starring Ralph Richardson, and The Third Man, with Orson Welles. Both pictures boasted high production values; Robert Krasker won an Oscar for his blackandwhite photography of Vienna in The Third Man. Reed received nominations for these films, but won the Oscar at his third nomination, for a less characteristic movie, the musical Oliver!