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Old April 8 2011, 05:13 AM   #318
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Location: Charlottetown, PEI, Canada
Re: Movies Seen in 2011

30. Gigi (B-)
31. I Love You Phillip Morris (B+)
32. How To Train Your Dragon (A)
33. Tarzan (B+)
34. Oliver! (B+)
35. Gosford Park (A-)
36. The Princess Bride (B+)
37. All the President's Men (A-)
38. Oliver Twist (B+)

Another of the Best Picture nominees of the stellar class of '76, which is often said to rival '94 in quality. Based on Woodward and Bernstein's account of the Watergate investigation (the first few months of it, anyway), it's a rather remarkable movie in terms of generating so much interest out of a very straightforward plot that doesn't really arrive at any dramatic conclusion. The film takes a very docudrama approach to the investigation (comparable to Good Night, and Good Luck, but that film had a bit more character hook), and manages to make the specifics fairly interesting.

Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman are very good in the lead parts, which are basically procedural leads. The film won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Jason Robards (the first of two back-to-back wins) as their editor; it's a good performance enough, though I'm not sure I'd have given him my vote. Also of note, when I saw the film got a Best Supporting Actress nomination I was a little incredulous, because it's a pretty big sausage-fest; but apparently the Academy was really impressed with Jane Alexander's two scenes as a nameless bookkeeper. Of course, this was the year that the award was won by Beatrice Straight for, basically, a single monologue in Network.


Having already reviewed 1968's Oliver!, I jumped back twenty years to 1948's Oliver Twist, one of David Lean's early films. I swear, the workhouse is the exact same set (or else, the latter is heavily inspired by the former). I've seen a number of Lean's early British films, all of which clock in under two hours; obviously a habit he grew out of in later years. This is a tighter and more faithful adaptation than is Oliver!; between the black-and-white, the lack of songs, and the grimier look, it's a lot more serious. The film's takes on the Artful Dodger and Fagin, for instance, aren't nearly so cutesy. Lean and co. have actually gone to considerable effort to replicate the character visuals from the novel's original illustrations, including outfitting Alec Guinness (Fagin) with a huge prosthetic nose that I understand caused not a little controversy. I guess they hadn't thought too much on the problematic aspects of the character. This is just about the only adaptation of this story that tries to include Monks/Edward Leeford and that aspect of Oliver's backstory, though at the same time the treatment of it is so cursory that I can't imagine it would make any sense to someone who hadn't read the book.

Performancewise, John Howard Davies is a better Oliver than Mark Lester, but the film isn't really any more interested in his perspective than Oliver! was. And I really think that's what's missing that is necessary for a truly great adaptation of Oliver Twist: the film needs to get inside the title character's head and be about him. It's a bit difficult, partly because of the plot, and partly because of the young age of the title character, but all the same. The main area this film is deficient compared to Oliver! is Nancy. Here she's played by Kay Walsh (aka Mrs. David Lean), who, in her late 30s, is clearly too old for the part, and she's not nearly as effective as Shani Wallis. Her defence of Oliver comes about far too suddenly (though the writing is to blame for that), and her situation in general isn't given the same weight. Though the filming of the murder scene is quite striking.
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