Based on the novel by Dickens, an orphan runs away and joins a gang of thieves, but his grandfather discovers him and tries to get him back.
A pregnant woman is taken in during a storm and gives birth. Mr. Bumble (Francis L. Sullivan) takes nine-year-old Oliver Twist (John Howard Davies) from the workhouse to the board, which gives him a job picking. Oliver draws the short straw and asks for more food.
Oliver is sold as an apprentice to the coffin-maker Sowerberry (Gibb McLaughlin). Oliver says his mother died of a broken heart. When Noah Claypole says she was bad, Oliver fights him and is spanked by Sowerberry.
Oliver runs away to London. The Artful Dodger (Anthony Newley) sees Oliver and takes him to Fagin (Alec Guinness), who shows him how to pick pockets. Oliver sees the miserly Fagin looking at his treasure of jewelry. Fagin sends him out with the Artful Dodger to steal. They are chased as thieves, and Oliver is hit and caught.
Fagin blames the Artful Dodger, but Bill Sikes (Robert Newton) comes in, followed by Nancy (Kay Walsh). They tell her to go to the police court. A witness says it was another boy, and the gentleman Mr. Brownlow (Henry Stephenson) takes Oliver to his home. Nancy tells Fagin, and they mobilize. Oliver recovers in bed and eats well.
Mr. Bumble scolds Mrs. Corney (Mary Clare), and she hits him. Monks (Ralph Truman) goes to Mr. Bumble, and Mrs. Corney tells them that Oliver's mother left a gold locket. Mr. Brownlow tells Oliver that he will not send him away unless he gives him cause. Oliver is sent with £5 to return some books. Nancy sees him, and Sikes takes him back to Fagin. Sikes takes the £5 and gives Fagin the books. Nancy protests, and Sikes causes her to collapse.
Fagin sees a poster offering a reward for Oliver and tears it down. Fagin asks Sikes to give Oliver a job. Monks shows Fagin the locket as Nancy secretly listens. Fagin hires the Dodger to spy on Nancy for a guinea. Fagin takes Oliver to Sikes, who threatens to shoot him if he talks to the police.
Nancy goes to Mr. Brownlow, and the Dodger overhears her. Fagin has the Dodger tell Sikes how Nancy told Mr. Brownlow that she would turn in Oliver for stealing with Sikes. Fagin tells Sikes not to be too violent, but Sikes goes and clubs Nancy to death. He remembers her and imagines killing Fagin. The Dodger finds Nancy dead.
Mr. Brownlow hears the murder by Sikes announced. He reports what he knows to the police, and Fagin is also wanted for abduction. Mr. Brownlow asks Monks where his grandson Oliver is, and he tells Mr. Bumble he will lose his position because of his wife. Monks leads the police to Fagin's hideout, and Sikes' dog leads them from there. Sikes finds where Fagin and the boys are. They hear the dog barking and see a mob approaching. Police break down the door. Sikes takes Oliver on the roof. Fagin is arrested. Sikes is shot and falls, and Oliver is rescued. In the final scene Mr. Brownlow takes Oliver home.
This drama exposes the abuse of children in 19th-century
England. Israel and Jewish groups in the United States considered
this film too anti-Semitic to show because of the portrayal of
the greedy Fagin, who exploits children. Yet Egypt banned it because
they believed the depiction of Fagin was too sympathetic.