There’s no other way for me to say it: Tom Jones is an incredibly fun movie. The subject bears some resemblance to Barry Lyndon, but instead of carrying Kubrick’s trademark detachment, Richardson throws us headfirst into the story, makes us care about the hero, and lets us have lots of fun along the way. There are a few things to think about here, but for the most part you won’t stop to because everybody in the film is having so much fun, which means the audience is too.
Tom Jones (Albert Finney) is a kind but incredibly careless young man who is the victim of other’s jealousy and prejudices, as well as his own philandering ways. He is the illegitimate son of two of Squire Allworthy’s (George Devine) servants, but is brought up as the Squire’s own. He is in love Sophie Western (Susannah York), the daughter of a neighboring Squire (Hugh Griffith). She is also in love with him, but Squire Western wishes her to marry Tom’s adoptive (and legitimate) brother, Blifil (David Warner). There’s also the problem of Molly (Diane Cilento), a local woman that Tom may or may not have impregnated. Regardless, things are hopeless for him as he and Sophie are determined to be together, and with Blifil manipulating the Squire to cast out Tom, who knows when they will be reunited? What ensues is a madcap goose chase around England with everyone trying to track down Tom, who gets into plenty of trouble of his own.
Stylistically, the film is very interesting. It’s incredibly fast paced and exuberant, just like the hero. Some of the shots are hand held, but Richardson never goes overboard like in many of today’s action movies. In many scenes, the film acts as a silent one. The opening is all over the top, with jaunty harpsichord music, overly demonstrative acting, and intertitles. I don’t think the title cards come back for the rest of the movie, but there are several silent scenes (including a particularly memorable one where Tom and Mrs. Waters (Joyce Redman) are eating dinner). The scene transitions are also pretty unusual. The best comparison I can make is the slide transition effects in Microsoft Powerpoint, and while that may sound cheesy and horrible, it’s just another endearing touch on this already eccentric film.
Tom Jones has a narrator (Micheal MacLiammoir), and a damn good one at that. I’m guessing that most of his lines came from the Fielding novel (though I can’t be sure because I haven’t read it yet), and they were just too good not to have someone say. MacLiammoir does a fantastic job, giving the film much of its considerable charm. He can explain Tom’s nature with one line: “To those who find our hero’s behavior startling, the answer is simple: Tom had always thought that any woman was better than none,” create dread in the audience, and adds a lot of marvelous humor. Another thing about this movie I appreciated was the rampant destruction of the fourth wall. Much of it is due to Tom and all of it is hilarious.
All of this really has me thinking that the film is a satire. I’m not sure if it actually is, but it is definitely funny enough to be one. It takes delight in lampooning proper British society, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. I can’t go into to much for fear of spoilers, but the ending really cements this idea. However, that’s not to say that it isn’t apparent along the way. Squire Western isn’t gentlemanly at all, Blifil and his cronies are whiney and pathetic, and Lady Bellaston (Joan Greenwood) isn’t very ladylike either. Come to think of it, Tom doesn’t really seem a model hero either. Basically, no one conforms to their stereotypes and it’s pretty hilarious.
At the Oscars, Tom Jones won four of the ten academy awards it was up for. It snagged best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay, and best score. It lost out on art direction and a bunch of acting awards: best actor for Finney, supporting actor for Griffith, and supporting actresses for Cilento, Evans (she played Squire Western’s sister), and Redman. I can only assume all of those actresses canceled each other out. I haven’t seen Poitier in Lillies of the Field, but I imagine he must have been good to beat out Finney here (or at least he better have been). This film seems way too fun for the Academy to have given its highest prize to, but I’m very glad they did. I found it to be an incredibly entertaining and humorous film, and I would definitely recommend it.
“We are all as God made us, and some of us much worse.”
Long story short: 3.5/4
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