An astonishingly good David Lean double-bill featuring his two Dickensian adaptations, Great Expectations
(1946) and Oliver Twist
(1948), this is a reminder that cinema does not necessarily have to debase its literary sources, sometimes it can enhance them. Lean's painterly eye for evocative locations--be they windswept marshes or bustling London streets--provides the backdrop, but his focus on smaller details--the ominous tree in the graveyard with its almost human face, the reaction of Bill Sikes' dog to Nancy's murder--adds the vital ingredient that brings both place and character to life.
Starring a youthful John Mills as Pip, Lean's Great Expectations is an unadulterated delight, a serendipitous gelling of screenplay, direction, cinematography and acting that produces an almost perfect film. The cast is exemplary, with Alec Guinness in his first (official) role as Pip's loyal pal Herbert Pocket; Martita Hunt is a cadaverous Miss Havisham; Finlay Currie transforms himself from truly threatening to entirely sympathetic as Magwitch; while the young Jean Simmons makes more of an impact as the girl Estella than Valerie Hobson does as the older incarnation. Perhaps best of all, though, is Francis Sullivan as the pragmatic but kindly attorney Jaggers.
The cinematography alone (courtesy of Guy Green) would qualify Oliver Twist as a classic: the opening sequence of a lone woman struggling through the storm is an indelible cinematic image. Fortunately, Lean's film has many more aces up its sleeve thereafter, notably Alec Guinness' grotesque Fagin--a caricature certainly, but a three-dimensional one--and Robert Newton's utterly pitiless Bill Sikes. The skewed angles and unsettling chiaroscuro lighting transform London itself into another threatening character. --Mark Walker
David Lean's classic adaptation of Charles Dickens' novel. Oliver (John Howard Davis) is a young orphan boy who is expelled from the workhouse run by Mr Bumble (Francis L. Sullivan). After becoming an apprentice to an undertaker Oliver decides to run away to London, only to meet the Artful Dodger (Anthony Newley) and fall amongst his gang of thieves, led by the scheming Fagin (Alec Guinness).