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Oliver Twist

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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(Aug 29, 2000)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Lon Chaney portrays the frightful, despicable Fagin in this richly atmospheric screen adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist" (74 min.). Jackie Coogan (The Kid) stars as the titular irrepressible waif in 19th-century England, whose adventures lead him from undernourished orphan to undertaker's apprentice, from novice pickpocket to pampered youth. Faithful in spirit and letter to Dickens' immortal story, "Oliver Twist" is an exquisitely designed film, recreating with painterly care the firelit chambers, sepulchral basements and sordid slums that confine its menagerie of eccentric and pathetic personages. As an added bonus, this DVD includes the Lon Chaney short film, "The Light of Faith" (30 min.). Typical of the era's moral regeneration dramas, director Clarence Brown's visually stunning "The Light of Faith" features Chaney as a thief who finds himself in possession of the Holy Grail. Chaney's genuine interest in the plight of the lawless endowed his performances in these films with remarkable conviction and vibrancy.

Jackie Coogan had made his name as the spunky waif in Chaplin's The Kid when he took on the role of Charles Dickens's plucky orphan hero in Oliver Twist. It's dream casting: wide-eyed Coogan is an innocent with a heart of gold dropped into a den of thieves, notably Lon Chaney's Fagin, a heartless conniver with long whiskers, a hook nose, rotten teeth and skeletal fingers. The entire production is peopled with perfect types--a rotund bulldog of a Mr. Brumble, a barrel-chested bully of a Bill Sykes, a ragged dandy of an Artful Dodger--but it rather misses the point of Dickens. "I know of two kinds of boys: good and bad," sniffs one high-society gentleman, and sure enough, director Frank Lloyd gives us heroes and villains without the energetic, colorful portrayals of the Dodger (who has little dramatic presence) and Fagin that enrich later versions of the novel. The entire novel is packed into 74 breakneck minutes, but the lavish production is richly atmospheric and beautiful to look at, and Coogan's cute, sprightly performance keeps the story bouncing along. The print is well worn and in places quite damaged, but it's presentable, nicely tinted, and accompanied by an organ score by John Muri.

This disc also includes Lon Chaney in The Light of Faith (an abridged version of Clarence Brown's The Light in the Dark). Chaney plays a thief who, inspired by the story of the Holy Grail, risks his life to rob a rich man of his ancient goblet in the hopes that it may save a sick girl. There's little room for dramatic resonance in such a digest-sized version, but Chaney shines as a reformed roughneck, and the lavish production is well preserved in this excellent restoration, which has been tinted and set to an organ score by Hank Troy. --Sean Axmaker

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Lon Chaney Sr., Aggie Herring, Jackie Coogan, Nelson McDowell, Lewis Sargent
  • Directors: Frank Lloyd
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, NTSC, Silent
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Image Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: August 29, 2000
  • Run Time: 107 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 6305944563
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #183,201 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Oliver Twist" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: VHS Tape
This version of "Oliver Twist" is a scant 74 minutes long, but contains much more of the book (including a portion of the Rose Maylie sequence) and retains a highly Dickensian flavor when viewed alongside other adaptations.
If you are new to silent films, this could be a good one to whet your appetite. If you are already a fan, give this one a try. The film is primarily a vehicle for Jackie Coogan, which proves to be just fine, as he is delightful in the title role. His expressive face and tiny stature are dead-right for Oliver, and he has more spunk than most exponents of the role, which helps to allay the saccharine nature of the character.
Fans of Lon Chaney may be disappointed with the little screen time he is given, but he makes the most of it. Subtle touches Chaney adds (such as gently laying a hand on Bill Sikes' chest) give a wealth of subtext and nuance to his performance, and adds immeasurably to our understanding of Fagin as petty thief.
The rest of the cast is good, with a fine performance from Gladys Brockwell as Nancy. She is another aspect of the film which rings true to Dickens: she is less the "hooker with a heart of gold" than a complex, hardened woman who has grown up among criminals yet retains her conscience.
Mention must also be made of the fine production design. Many scenes look as though they were lifted from the original Cruikshank illustrations (especially the meeting at London Bridge) and the men look particularly appropriate for the period. Some of the women retain the '20s look in makeup and hair, which is typical of Hollywood period movies through the 1970's.
The title cards also are well-done, either quoting directly from Dickens or retaining his authorial flavor.
All told, this is a winning adaptation of a perennial favorite.
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Format: VHS Tape
It is certainly interesting to consider that this 1920 version of "Oliver Twist," the classic novel by Charles Dickens, was intended as a vehicle for Jackie Coogan. Of course, today they put Lon Chaney on the box to pique our interest, but while his Fagin is a commanding presence in the film, he does not pop up until halfway through. Coogan later told the story of how he was first introduced to Chaney in full make-up on the set and was immediately terrified. We have heard about the magic Chaney could do with spirit gum and greasepaint, but notice how impressive his FINGERNAILS are in this film. Having worked with Chaplin in "The Kid," Coogan certainly recognized Chaney's star quality. Coogan's performance is certainly stronger than it was in "The Kid," and you have to appreciate the way he underplays the part, something you would associate with neither kid actors nor silent film stars. George Siegmann makes a memorably monstrous Bill Sikes, Gladys Brockwell is Nancy, and Edouard Trebaol plays the Artful Dodger. Scottish born director Frank Lloyd is usually not recognized as one of the greats of the silent era, but he did make over 100 films and won three Oscars ("The Divine Lady," "Cavalcade," and "Mutiny on the Bounty"). More importantly, he had a love for Dickens that comes through in this film. I amazed at the fact this is only a 74 minutes film; clearly a lot is cut out, but it captures the spirit of Dickens. This was the fourth silent version of the Dickens tale and actually was not topped until the 1948 film with John Howard Davies as Oliver and Alec Guiness as Fagin. Of course, in 1968 the musical version won the Oscar for best picture.
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Format: DVD
They sure get some adorable kids to play Oliver Twist. "Despised by all and pitied by none." Hooey. In 1922 Jackie Coogan owned Hollywood, and the hearts of Americans all over the world.

Well, the Kid could act, and don't let the cover art or p.r. department fool you. This is Coogan's movie, and Lon Chaney is definitely a secondary character. This 1922 silent movie is well done, and doesn't feel much more dated than the story it tells. Lon Chaney, who must have been wearing some (probably terribly uncomfortable) contraption plays Fagin as a bent, wizened, sharp-nosed wheedler.

I enjoyed LIGHT OF FAITH, the 32-minute add-on movie, more than OLIVER TWIST. Chaney stars in this one, sans cumbersome make-up, playing a street tough who falls for a young woman who moves into his tenement building. The woman, as they were wont to do back then, is failing from a broken heart. The distant object of her affection found the Grail Tennyson wrote of in his Arthurian tales. The Grail, she tells the impressionable Chaney, glows with an inner light and has remarkable curative powers.

So, the girl's dangerously declining, her old beau has the Grail, and Chaney has a larcenous inspiration. Director Clarence Brown delicately handles the material, and Chaney gives a subtle and nuanced performance.
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Format: DVD
The main feature on this disc, 'Oliver Twist' (1922), is a pretty decent adaptation of the well-known Charles Dickens novel, though, as just about all movies based on books are wont to do, it naturally can't cover everything from the book. The sets bring Victorian England to life pretty well, particularly the settings in the orphanage and in Fagin's house. Life was no picnic for the poor in Victorian England, with no system of social welfare as yet set up, and many poor people were forced to either go to an almshouse, or, if they were desperate enough, to turn to a life of crime like Fagin and his cohorts. However, since it is based on a novel, it doesn't always work very well as a silent. While there are some great silents adapted from works of literature, this one seems really chatty and like it could have been even better as a talkie. There also isn't enough character development, particularly of Fagin (Lon Chaney), who, though he's great in all of his scenes, just doesn't have a lot to do. This was a starring vehicle for the adorable Jackie Coogan (in spite of Lon's picture being on the DVD cover), so it seems natural that the producers would have wanted to emphasise his title character in the storyline, even though at times it seems more like a showcase for Jackie instead of a showcase of the Dickens novel. There could have been more meat on the plot and greater character development if they hadn't done this; as cute and talented as Jackie was, he wasn't the only important character. The print also is a bit worn, though since it was considered lost until 1972, one can't expect too much in terms of print quality. However, I wish there had been a more elaborate score beyond an organ.Read more ›
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