Oliver!
1968
Dir: Carol Reed

'Oliver!' was a truly massive production.
Around 5,000 boys were auditioned for the title role.
The film took up the whole of Shepperton Studios, building the whole of Bloomsbury Square on the backlot.
Some of the musical numbers took weeks to film.

It was a big gamble, costing over $10m (the equivalent of over $70m in modern terms)
But the gamble paid off.

'Oliver!' is one of the truly great film musicals.

At the 1969 Oscars, 'Oliver!' picked up Best Picture, Director, Art Direction, Sound and Music, and was nominated for a further six awards. (Interestingly it was passed over by the BAFTAs, where it failed to win an award.)

In the same year, three other musicals were released - 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang', 'Finian's Rainbow', and 'Star!'. All flopped.

The 60's had brought 'My Fair Lady', 'Mary Poppins', 'The Sound of Music' and 'West Side Story', but by the end of the decade, the musical genre had peaked.

In fact, the publicity campaign in England was 'It's much, much more than a musical!' as if the concept of a musical was actually off-putting to audiences.

The seventies would see few successful film musicals in the old glossy Hollywood style. There were musicals made - 'Jesus Christ Superstar', 'Phantom of the Paradise', 'Tommy', 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show', 'Grease' and 'Hair', but they had abandoned many of the vital ingredients of the musical film - extravagant sets, big musical numbers, and innocence.

When 'Cabaret' came out in 1972, its plot including homosexuality, sex and even abortion, it was clear that the musical had changed forever.

In fact, 'Oliver!' remains to this day the last G-rated film to win the Best Picture Oscar.

So, we can look back at 'Oliver!' as one of the last films of an era.

For director, Carol Reed it was also the end of an era. He directed his first film in 1935, and was 62 when he directed 'Oliver!'. He had directed some great films including 'Odd Man Out', 'The Fallen Idol' and 'The Third Man'. 'Oliver!' brought him his first and only Oscar. He made only two more films in his life - both unremarkable.

Lionel Bart, who wrote the songs for 'Oliver!' could never repeat the success. He sold the rights to 'Oliver!' to finance later shows, which flopped. He went bankrupt, and struggled with alcoholism.

Mark Lester who played Oliver had a successful career as a child actor, but gave up at the age of 19 to become an osteopath.

Jack Wild, who played the Artful Dodger was an alcoholic by the time he left teenage, and became largely unemployable. He died from oral cancer possibly a result of his heavy drinking and smoking.

Even Ron Moody's career did not perhaps develop the way it deserved. He said,

"If I had stayed in America afterwards, then things would probably have been much better and I would have had lots of film work, which I wanted. But the day after the Oscars I flew back to London to film a television play for Anglia. It was a big mistake because you never really get acknowledged for wanting to work in England, as I did. I just think now that you are a bloody fool if you do that. You should take the money when you can. I've no regrets. You take responsibility for your actions. You don't kvetch. Playing Fagin in the play and film was a small miracle."

While watching 'Oliver!', as joyous and wonderful as it is, I find it impossible to watch it without a slight tinge of melancholy that we will perhaps never see a film like this made again.

One little bit of trivia - in the song 'Where is Love?', the word 'Where' is sung over a sequence of five musical notes. It is hard to think of any other song where a single syllable uses so many notes.

Paul Spurrier