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  • Writer's pictureGerry

Lean on me more...

Once more Terry gives us an insight into the fascinating world of film production by some of the greatest producers and directors....

“Another story from the films of David Lean, this one from his magnificent film version of Charles Dickens’ 'Oliver Twist' (1948), though not to be confused with the Technicolor musical, 'Oliver' (1968), directed by Carol Reed.

Many people think of the old Jewish thief, Fagin, as being the villain of the story, but, although he trains young boys to steal, he is not a violent man. The truly evil character in the story is Bill Sykes, who everyone is afraid of because of his violent temper...even his dog, who carries many scars from his beatings.

The film company borrowed a Staffordshire Bull Terrier which had a lovely temperament, from a dogs home, and a make-up artist had to put the scars on the dog before every shoot.

Bill Sykes has a girl friend, Nancy, who is also in great fear of him, and towards the end of the film, in a blind rage, Sykes murders Nancy by bludgeoning her with his stick. The scene is vital to the story, but they didn't know how to get it past the censors of the day. So, what did David Lean do??

When he got to the point of Sykes taking up his stick to beat Nancy, he cut away to the dog, who was trying to scratch his way out of the room, yelping and barking in fear, while the sound of the blows, and Nancy 's screams were dubbed over the shot of the dog. But! How did they get the dog to react in the way that it did??

Well, while they were trying to work out how to get this scene passed, one of the crew had been teasing the dog with a fluffy toy cat!! The dog was going berserk, trying to tear the cat to pieces! This gave David Lean the idea of how to do it. They put the tail of the cat under the door, on the set, so that the dog could see it. The dog went frantic, trying to get the tail - they switched on the cameras, and pulled the tail away from the other side of the door, while the dog was howling, and scratching at the door, which looked as if it was trying to get away from its cruel master, Bill Sykes.

The director, David Lean, hated gratuitous violence in films, but, was able to put this most violent scene into the film, without actually showing anything. He simply put it into the minds of the audience, leaving them use their own imagination. There is a happy postscript to the story. The dog, which everybody called Sykes, was taken in by Norman Spencer, the film's production manager who said, "He was a lovely dog". So, there you have it folks!! More 'tricks of the trade'.

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