OLIVER! (THE MUSICAL) and WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY- A BUMPER DOUBLE CHRISTMAS REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
OLIVER! (THE MUSICAL). 1968. DIRECTED BY CAROL REED. BASED ON THE NOVEL BY CHARLES DICKENS AND THE STAGE MUSICAL BY LIONEL BART. MUSIC BY LIONEL BART. STARRING RON MOODY, SHANI WALLIS, OLIVER REED, HARRY SECOMBE, PEGGY MOUNT, JACK WILD, LEONARD ROSSITER, JOSEPH O’CONOR AND MARK LESTER.
WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. 1971. DIRECTED BY MEL STUART. BASED ON THE BOOK BY ROALD DAHL. STARRING GENE WILDER, PETER OSTRUM, JACK ALBERTSON, JULIE DAWN COLE AND ROY KINNEAR.
I’ve been watching these two perennial Christmas favourites every Crimbo since I was a nipper. And, in the case of WILLY WONKA, every Easter and sometimes even Paddy’s Day as well. That’s how much TV stations (and the Irish!) love WILLY WONKA, haha.
OLIVER! is based on the novel by that great chronicler (is that a word?) of all things good and bad about Victorian England, Mr. Charles Dickens. It’s the story of an innocent, sweet-natured little orphan boy, born in the workhouse, who runs away from a horrible job in an undertakers’ shop to the big metropolis of London. I suppose he wants to see if he’ll fare any better there, the poor little sod. I don’t blame him, given that his life up to that point has consisted mainly of starvation rations, child cruelty, loneliness and abuse from all quarters.
It’s a case of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire,’ though, as Oliver falls in with Fagin, superbly played by Ron Moody who sadly died this year (2015) a few days after the death of Christopher Lee. Fagin is a master criminal who controls a small battalion of street urchins. His boys are thieves, pickpockets, housebreakers and general all-round scallywags and gallows fodder, if I may wax poetical for a moment.
These lads, led by the cheeky Artful Dodger, himself a Fagin in the making, try to initiate Oliver into a life of crime, but Oliver’s just not cut out for it. Besides, there’s a secret surrounding Oliver’s parentage that’s been simmering away for years but which is getting ready to come to the boil, a secret which might just alter the course of wee Oliver’s fortunes forever…
The dramatis personae is peopled with the most unforgettable characters. We’ve got the evil but somehow loveable Fagin, of course, and the just plain evil but smoulderingly sexy thief Bill Sikes, played by Oliver Reed. Shani Wallis is magnificent as the feisty Nancy, Bill’s girlfriend who has a heart as soft as butter and a special place in it for the lonely little orphan, Oliver.
Harry Secombe is another to whom the appellation of ‘magnificent’ may be applied. He’s nothing short of outstanding and in fine voice too as the portly beadle of the workhouse, Mr. Bumble. Leonard Rossiter too deserves special mention as Mr. Sowerberry, the lugubrious undertaker.
The songs are fantastic. From ‘FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD’ to ‘BOY FOR SALE’ through ‘CONSIDER YOURSELF AT HOME’ and ‘OOMPA-PAH, OOMPA-PAH, THAT’S HOW IT GOES,’ every one of ’em is a stone-cold classic. I remember a few years ago on the BBC there was this reality TV programme which was searching for a woman to play the role of Nancy and a boy to star as Oliver in a huge Andrew Lloyd-Webber West End production. It was a brilliant show. The Nancy they eventually selected (I forget her name) was nearly as good as the great Shani Wallis herself. She proper belted out those great old tunes…!
The DVD I have, incidentally, contains the original Overture, Entr’Acte/Intermission and end music from the stage musical so, if I like (and I do!), I can just let the music play and use the breaks to nip to the loo or put the kettle on or even make a quick phone call. Which is nice, haha!
WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is another little cracker of a musical film that you can watch every year (sometimes, as I said earlier, three times a year!) and it never gets old. I remember the first time I ever saw it. I was only a wee ‘un. My family and I were just back from a long, post-Christmas walk in the freezing cold.
We switched on the colour telly and there was this magical, unbelievably good rollercoaster of a film on. I think it was THE CHINA SYNDROME. No, haha, of course I’m only joking. It was WILLY WONKA and my childish imagination was entranced and completely captivated by the brilliant colours and the funny, witty songs and, of course, the oompa-loompas. I’d never even heard of an oompa-loompa. Little did I know that this was to be the first year of many that we would all worship slavishly at the altar of WILLY WONKA and his eponymous CHOCOLATE FACTORY…
It’s the story of an eccentric chocolate-factory owner, brilliantly played by Gene Wilder, who decides to throw open the doors of his factory to just five people in the world. Thus begins the fevered worldwide hunt for the five golden tickets, all of which are (conveniently!) won by five kids: the poor but nice Charlie Bucket; the spoiled rotten Veruca Salt; the gum-chewing Violet Beauregarde; the obnoxious and rude TV-obsessed Mike Teevee; and the fat, chocolate-guzzling Augustus Gloop. A mixed bag indeed…
So. what does the smiling but cunning Mr. Wonka have in store for his wee guests and their (for the most part) awful parents? One by one, the little horrors are taught unpleasant but necessary life-lessons by Willy Wonka and his fat little orange factory workers, the oompa-loompas. These life-lessons are all accompanied by perfectly appropriate songs from the oompa-loompas. I’ve always considered these smug, I told you so-style musical f**k-yous to be the best parts of the film.
Anyway, when poor but nice Charlie is the last man standing, as it were, we finally find out the real reason that Willy Wonka has decided to open his precious factory to the public. Is it good news for Charlie? Well, it might be, but you’ll have to watch the film for yourself to find out just what it all means for Charlie and his awful (well, I think they’re awful!) family of cabbage-water-swilling, poor-as-church-mice bedridden dependents.
Gene Wilder’s much-parodied performance is a masterclass in acting. Veruca Salt and her rich, my-money-can-buy-anything dad are my two favourites after Gene Wilder. The spoilt brat, Daddy’s-little-princess Veruca is played by Julie Dawn Cole, whom I believe grew up to strip off and flash her goodies in popular television drama, POLDARK.
Her screen dad, played by Roy Kinnear, has been brilliant in anything I’ve ever seen in him. He was terrific in the HAMMER production, TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, in which he starred alongside the late great Sir Christopher Lee. ‘Name your price, Wonka…!’
The character of Charlie’s Grandpa Joe, played by Jack Albertson, has always made my blood boil. The lazy old codger! Spends twenty years lying on his scrawny arse in bed but one whiff of a lifetime supply of free chocolate and a nosy around the chocolate-factory and he’s up out of bed, dancing and singing ‘I’VE GOT A GOLDEN TICKET!’ at the top of his ancient, tobacco-polluted lungs.
Tobacco paid for by Charlie, I might add, who incidentally grew up to be a postman in real life after starring in only this one film ever. I saw that in one of those ‘WHERE ARE THEY NOW?’ programmes. Ah well. After all: ‘A little nonsense now and then, is relished by the wisest men…!’
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn, Le Dernier Paradis at the Trinity Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival.
Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issues magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. In August 2014, she won the ONE LOVELY BLOG award for her (lovely!) horror film review blog. She is addicted to buying books and has been known to bring home rain-washed tomes she finds on the street and give them a home.
She is the proud possessor of a pair of unfeasibly large bosoms. They have given her- and the people around her- infinite pleasure over the years. She adores the horror genre in all its forms and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia. She would also be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at:
1) ‘… BY A WOMAN WALKING HER DOG…’
2) A WRITER’S JOURNEY
3) ANNA MEETS COUNT DRACULA
4) ANOTHER FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
5) CANCER BALLS
6) CATCH OF THE DAY
7) FIFTY FILTHY-DIRTY SEX-POEMS YOU MUST READ BEFORE I DIE.
8) FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
9) THE DEVIANTS
10) VISITING DAY