The second of director David
Lean's adaptations of a Charles Dickens novel (Great
Expectations (1946) was the first), Oliver Twist expertly
boils down an enormous novel to a little less than two
hours' screen time. The film begins with baby Oliver
left on the doorstep of an orphanage/workhouse by his unwed
Proving a difficult charge to the wicked
orphanage official, Oliver (John Howard Davies) is sold into a job
as an undertaker's apprentice. He runs away and joins a gang
of larcenous street urchins, led by master pickpocket Fagin (Alec
Guinness). Oliver is rescued from this life by the kindly
Mr. Brownlow (Henry Stephenson); but, with the complicity of evil
Bill Sikes (Robert Newton), Fagin abducts Oliver.
Sikes' girlfriend Nancy (Kay Walsh)
restores Oliver to Brownlow, leading to tragic consequences before
an ultimately happy ending.
Oliver Twist was filmed in England in
1948, but its American release was held up for three years due to
the allegedly anti-Semitic portrayal of the duplicitous Fagin.
Even in its currently censored form, Oliver Twist is one the
best-ever film versions of a Dickens novel. It served as a
blueprint for Oliver! (1968), the Oscar-winning musical version.