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 mother. 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' girl friend 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.
by Hal Erickson synopsis