Charles Dickens was “the” popular novelist for the English-speaking world in the 19th century, so it’s no surprise that his famous works would be immediately adapted to the screen. With his colorful characters, busy plots and distinct flair for the macabre, Dickens and silent films were ideally matched.
While I was researching titles for this month, I discovered that the earliest five-reel, released-all-in-one-go feature film in America was very likely the 1912 independent production of Oliver Twist. A copy survives in the Library of Congress and I hope to see it one day but I think that a film company took a risk on a longer production using Dickens is a testament to the strength of his brand.
(Please note that the ad above states “in one film.” It’s from a trade magazine and theater owners had been rallying for some time for studios to release longer multi-part films all at once. There had been four and five reel films released but one reel at a time over the span of weeks. Reviews of Oliver Twist specifically praised its flow and the ease with which the plot could be followed when not chopped up. Ironically, Dickens embraced the serialized release of his novels.)
I’ve only reviewed one Dickens adaptation so far, the 1912 Thanhouser Nicholas Nickleby, but I am keen as mustard to expand. I am a longtime fan of Dickens novels (my favorite is Our Mutual Friend) and his wonderful capacity for vibrant characters who leap off the page. I hope we will all have fun!
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