The actor died yesterday in London. He was 91.
There are some actors who leave an indelible impression because of one particular role and this was undoubtedly true in the case of Moody’s appearance in the musical Oliver! that was based on the book Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens that was first a stage play in London and Broadway before being made into a film in 1968.
In the book, the character of Fagin is really evil, a man who trains a small army of street urchins in the art of pickpocketing to make himself rich, and hoards all his ill-gotten gains. When approached about taking on the role, Moody, who was himself Jewish, had reservations about accepting it because the book’s character is a vicious stereotype of the money-hungry Jew. But because the part was written with humor, he accepted it and transformed the character into one who, while still morally reprehensible, was not so dark that audiences could not identify with him. As Moody said, “I realized the way to play Fagin was to forget Dickens and to create a clown, and I used every trick that I could think of to take Fagin away from Dickens’ concept.”
In the case of Oliver!, the scene from that film that I still remember most vividly was the one in which Fagin, contemplating whether it is time to move away from a life of crime, sings I’m Reviewing the Situation, showing in this one song all the impish, sly, lonely, scheming, fearful, pathos, ingratiating, and malevolent elements that Moody brought to the character. A brilliant performance.