Carol Reed was — when the occasion presented itself — a great filmmaker. Few things are better than — or even as good as — his 1949 masterpiece The Third Man. He was also handed more than his share of lemons. Oliver! (1968) is neither a masterpiece (despite all its Oscars), nor a lemon. It’s a solid film version of a popular Broadway show — with everything that implies, both pro and con. It has a largely terrific cast — mostly the adults, with great turns by Ron Moody, Oliver Reed and Harry Secombe. It more or less preserves the core of most of Charles Dickens’ novel — with the concession of a more cheerful fate for Moody’s Fagin. And it has a raft of songs you can’t rid yourself of — no matter how hard you try. There’s a temptation to call it old-fashioned — even in 1968. Well, it was. So was William Wyler’s Funny Girl that same year. Both, however, were symptomatic of an era at its end. They were in no way reactionary or determinedly old-fashioned, just part of a movie style that was falling out of favor. Oliver! now seems to suffer less from that than it suffers from being big-budgeted and bloated. And that style is still with us (see Les Miserables). Almost no one — save for maybe Oliver Reed — really benefited from all the fuss. Carol Reed never got another plum assignment. Most of the cast went right back to the type of character roles they’d been doing. The brief splash made by young Mark Lester (with the help of musical director Johnny Green’s daughter Kathe’s singing voice) as Oliver and Jack Wild (the Artful Dodger) played out about as you’d expect. The film itself holds up OK for what it is — and better than that if you were exposed to it at the right age. It’s not great, but it’s good.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show Oliver! Sunday, Jan. 6 at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.