It’s not uncommon for a literary classic to arrive on the screen muddled, mangled, or altered beyond recognition. And certainly this flamboyant, musical take on Oliver Twist expands on the source material. Yet, one can’t help but imagine that even Charles Dickens would savor the cinematic delight that is Oliver! right down to its titular exclamation point. Director Carol Reed, skillfully opening up Lionel Bart’s 1960 stage adaptation, wrests once-in-a-lifetime performances from his cast. Mark Lester stars as the workhouse waif who escapes the confines of his orphanage and falls in with a larcenous band of street urchins. His best pal is the Artful Dodger (Jack Wild), an impudent, cunning little rascal who is the right-hand man, so to speak, of wily old Fagin (Ron Moody in an Oscar-nominated performance). Lester is simultaneously mischievous and angelic as Oliver; Wild invests the Dodger with a self-assuredness far beyond his years; Moody portrays Fagin without the malignance usually associated with that character; and Oliver Reed plays Bill Sykes with all the menacing ferocity one expects of that unregenerate evildoer. The songs -- including “Food, Glorious Food,” “Consider Yourself,” “I’d Do Anything,” and “You've Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” -- remain fresh and lively. Reed’s adroit handling of Vernon Harris’s screenplay doesn’t miss a beat. Every opportunity to punch up a scene is taken, and it’s hard to imagine how Oliver! could possibly have turned out better. The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences had the same opinion, awarding the film six Oscars, including Best Picture of 1968. Some films retain their excellence but show their age. Oliver! isn’t one of them -- you’ll find it just as exhilarating today as audiences did back in the '60s.