Saturday, January 8, 2011
Of all the film versions of Dickens's Oliver Twist, Lean's is the most beautiful, the most devastating, and the most atmospheric. You can tell that both Carol Reed and Roman Polanski were aware of its importance. Acknowledging that several key scenes from Lean's Oliver had already been portrayed to perfection, both directors chose to include almost exact replicas in their versions. (The boys eating porridge, and looking on, half-starved, as the adults gorge themselves on a fine feast.) Interestingly enough, though, both directors also excluded Lean's infamous opening scene of Oliver's mother arriving at the workhouse. This scene is perhaps the best film opener I've seen. Amid a violent storm: close-ups of twisted, thorny branches, a pregnant young girl clutching the prison-like gates of the workhouse, shadows swallowing her up. The rain, the mud, everything working against her. She is doomed, but, of course, we can't help hope for a miracle.
More so than both Reed and Polanski (whose version was a complete dud) David Lean brings Dickens's story to life as a dark and deadly world in which children are at the mercy of the corrupted. At one point in Reed's film, Oliver bows to Fagin with respect. It's treated as a joke, and the other boys laugh at him. In Lean's film, you understand that such behavior has been beaten into him.