Oliver! (1968)

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I have a distinct memory of my eighth grade English class joking about that famous line of Oliver’s “Please sir; can I have some more?” repeating it to each other ad naseum and laughing hysterically every time.  This leads me to believe that we read the book, at least in part, and watched this film, at least in part.  However, I could not have told you a single plot point if my life depended on it.  That’s either a reflection of my education or of my long-term literary memory.

 

Thanks to IMDB trivia, I’ve learned that Oliver Twist was initially published in the pre-Victorian times – specifically, in 1837 (in serial form), while William IV still reigned.  All the same, if there’s any writer I associate with the Industrial Revolution and the Victorian era, it’s certainly Charles Dickens.

 

The plot is this:  Oliver Twist is stuck in an orphanage until he dares to ask for more gruel.  Then he gets dumped into a undertaker’s family, but they don’t like having him around, so he escapes to London.  There, he joins up with a creepy old man who lives with a bunch of homeless boys and teaches them to pick pockets, obviously by encouraging them to reach into his pants.

 

Recently, I’ve been playing this old computer game called Thief.  It’s an awesome game, where the main purpose is to sneak around stealing stuff.  I was reminded of it by this one scene with Bill Sikes, the scary house burglar who was once creepy old man Fagin’s protégé and still uses him to fence his goods.  Bill Sikes has a big sack and keeps taking out plates and silverware and pewter trays and all this crazy, loud stuff, using the same sort of video game logic that allows a character who’s supposed to be really quiet and sneaky carrying around a big clanging bag of junk.

 

As I’ve found in most of the musicals I’ve watched, I can often get kind of interested in the story, only to find myself stymied by the songs.  “Get to the point already!” I usually think.  There were a few interesting bits of song here, where different members of the town come and go, creating a sort of layered effect that worked well in establishing atmosphere.  In general, though, I did find myself anxiously awaiting the next scene to start.  I guess I’m just not a big musical person.

 

It’s quite clear that, regardless of genre or time period, women on film rarely get a fair shake.  Poor Nancy is stuck with a deadbeat boyfriend in Bill Sikes, and doesn’t come out great for it.  She wasn’t the greatest friend to Oliver, but at least she did try to help him out in the end.

 

I don’t know if it’s a skill or a cheesy gimmick, but the story manages to be conveniently wrapped up by the appearance of an unexpected distant relative.  So if you are an orphan, all you need to do is make sure that your dearly departed mother was kin to a rich uncle who can save you from your poverty once he learns about your existence.

 

 

Theme:  Victorian

First Time Watching:  Possibly not, but I don’t remember it

Final Verdict:  Shut up and drink your gin!

 

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Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)

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The funny thing about watching all these movies, one after the other, is that even the ones I know next to nothing about come with certain expectations.  For example, I expect that the films that have entered the canon as Great Movies are going to actually be Great Movies that have only to reveal their brilliance to me.  And then there are the films that haven’t lasted quite so long in the canon, which I can safely assume are absolute rubbish.  Obviously, there’s no in-between.  Movies are always either fantastic or terrible, despite the fact that I would describe very few of the films I’ve seen from this list in such definitive terms.

With that opener, you can probably guess where I’m going with this.  Despite being another three-friggin’-hour-long film, and with a pretty wince-worthy series of colonialist portrayals (they get to fight off not just one, but two kinds of Indians!), bizarre cameos from the big stars of the day (most of whom I’ve never heard of), and a ten-minute scene of literally nothing but a guy waving a flag in front of bull for no reason other than that the actor happened to also be a bullfighter, I have a grudging appreciation for this movie.  I’m not putting it at the top of my list or anything, but it’s also not at the bottom.

Based on the totally random introductory part of the film, which features Edward R. Murrow narrating something about the advances of technology in film and travel, it’s pretty clear that the filmmaker was really excited about the promise of the Space Race.  Traveling around the world in 80 days seemed impressive back in the day, but now we have rockets that can go around the Earth in hours, is apparently the point.  More recently, they’ve remade this film as The Amazing Race, or any other number of reality shows that ask contestants to do something dangerous and crazy for the camera.

Phileas Fogg, who doesn’t smoke or drink or do anything interesting, makes a bet with the fellows down at the old boys’ club that he can make it around the world in eighty days.  He brings along his faithful companion Passepartout, who just came into his employ that same day and happens to have a wide range of talents that come in handy when they, for example, drop into a Spanish village in the middle of bullfighting season.  Also, a big bank just got robbed, leading everyone to believe that Fogg is the culprit.  Along the way, Fogg rescues an Indian princess (Hindu India, not Native America) who is about to be sacrificed on an altar to Kali (because that’s a thing, I guess?).  Also, the Indian princess is Shirley MacLaine.

What redeeming qualities, you might ask, did I find in this film that led me to the conclusion that it was palatable – nay, even kind of weirdly entertaining?  Well, despite the long runtime, I found myself relatively engaged in the action.  Other than the longest bullfight-with-no-narrative-purpose ever, they mostly move from place to place without pausing long enough to do much more than wreak havoc.  There was an odd running obsession with cows.  There were a number of genuinely funny lines (“Crisis or no, nothing should interfere with tea!”).  But the real star of the show was the daredevil Passepartout, played by Mexican comedic actor Cantinflas – who was apparently quite famous back in the day.

The most important thing is that the movie is educational.  What I learned here is that if you’re rich enough, you, too, can travel around the world, dispensing with any obstacles with ease.  Just throw money at people and you’ll get hot air balloons, elephants, boats, all at your command.  You’ll even get princesses to fall in love with you!  Some things never change.

 

Theme:  Victorian/Book into Film

First Time Watching:  Yes

Final Verdict:  You’ve been diddled!