Like most artworks that initially create moral shockwaves, TonyRichardson's 1963 film Tom Jones no longer has the naughtiness factor it once did. But the ribald realization of Henry Fielding's bawdy novel remains one of the funniest, well-acted and wittiest works on film.
Because I was born the year of the film's earlier release, I never saw the film as audiences did in 1963. Since Tom Jones features less exposed skin than your average soap opera, it's difficult to see why the film caused a fuss in the first place. In fact, this version of Tom Jones was a standard part of my high school English curriculum.
Director Richardson reworked the sound and effects in the movie and cut seven minutes from the original in order to update the pacing and technical qualities for modern audiences. The finely drawn humor and the hilarious portrayals that pepper the film remain intact.
No performance is funnier than Albert Finney's as the amorous title character. Tom Jones is one of the most fun loving in literature, and Finney captures him with his eye-winking love of life and women.
Finney is dashingly handsome as Tom, and he plays the rogue as a
half-innocent, boyish bundle of charm and enthusiasm as he beds a series of women in a set of outlandish dramatic situations.
I can't think of any funnier food scene than when Finney plows through a meal at an inn with one of his conquests. Everybody eats messily in this film, in the style of the time, but Finney and his paramour practically suck up a series of sloppy dishes. Lobster, chicken, mutton, oysters and juice-dripping fruit are consumed erotically before the two lovers abandon the board and leap for the bed.
While Finney is the absolute star, Tom Jones is remarkable for the depth of distinctive characters that give it such depth. From the dog-faced Dame Edith Evans as the prudish Miss Western, to the googley-eyed Hugh Griffith as the rambunctious and rude Squire Western to the long-faced David Warner as the sniveling Bliffil, Tom Jones is jammed with character actors.
The hundreds of extras who populate the crowd and street scenes give the farce a realistic feel as well. This is one of the film's characteristics that is surprising to find tucked in such an obviously rowdy story. Richardson's image of 18th-century England is of a muck-filled, poverty-ridden place where few were really allowed to enjoy life.
The otherwise jolly stag hunt is punctuated with such images. While the landed gentry can drink and play as they chase after a frightened deer, others suffer. They slice bloody gashes on their horses flanks with cruelly shaped spurs. The happy hunting party obliviously kills the livestock of a peasant during the chase. And the wagging tales and excited yelps of the hunting dogs is matched by the shouts of joy as the party corners the deer and watches the dogs rip its throat out.
And while the rich play out their drawing-room intrigues, the street of Richardson's London are filled with dust, poverty, idiocy, disfigurement and nameless death. Tom, a bastard who often suffers for his illegitimacy, sees the life that would have been his had not a rich man taken pity on him.
The whole film shows life in the 18th century as a rather smelly, chaotic, dirty affair. Even in the finest of the country gentry, they eat in a manner that wouldn't go over at a Po' Folks today. Dogs eat from the table in inns and serve as living pillows in homes. Peasants live cheek to crown with roosters and other barnyard animals.
The earthy lust that seems to be part and parcel of the most appealing and trustworthy characters is interesting: Sex - really fun, romping encounters - is a natural activity to be enjoyed. For the loathsome characters, sex is a filthy habit pursued by lower people.
You don't have to think about any of this, however, to enjoy the
re-release of Tom Jones. The jokes have survived intact since the 18th
century, and the new cut of this wonderful film will introduce a new
generation to this classic.
MOVIE REVIEW Tom Jones ++++ Director: Tony Richardson Cast: Albert Finney, Susannah York, Hugh Griffith, Dame Edith Evans, Joan Greenwood Screenplay: John Osborne, after the novel by Henry Fielding Rating: No rating (adult situations, but no nudity or foul language) Running time: 122 minutes Excellent+++++; Very good++++;
Good+++; Mediocre++; Poor+