The History of Tom Jones, a Floundering
Tom Jones is a 1963 British adventure comedy film directed by Tony Richardson and stars Albert Finney, Susannah York, Hugh Griffith, Edith Evans, Dianne Cilento, and Joyce Redman. It is an adaptation of the novel, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding, and was nominated for ten Oscars, winning four.
One of the greatest mysteries of the Best Picture Oscar is the ignorance it displays towards comedies, with only a small handful of films that can be appropriately labeled a comedy ever having won the award. Given the dreadful state of film comedy nowadays, I'm not surprised that comedies never win, let alone get nominated. Gone are the days of the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, and Monty Python. Now we must struggle with the likes of Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison devils. That's not to say there weren't bad comedies back then. It's just that good comedy today is something that we look upon as if it were a holy angel that descended from the heavens, blessing us with gifts that we as a human species are not worthy of. But anyway, I digress. If we look way way back at the earliest Best Picture winners, pure-bred comedies are nowhere to be found, with one lone exception, however: 1963's Tom Jones. The film had some notable differences from the novel it was adapted from, but since I haven't read the novel, there would be little to no use for me to go into the whole "compare and contrast the movie from the novel" charade.
Tom Jones is a movie that's been described as irreverent, frantic, and completely tongue-in-cheek, taking on an eccentric comedic style that uses techniques like having the opening sequence presented like a silent film and having the characters occasionally break the fourth wall. Whatever silliness and irreverence are on display in Tom Jones, I saw none of it. Zero. Zilch. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. There was not one single moment during the film's 129 minutes that made me laugh, and I sat in utter confusion as to why I wasn't laughing at anything. This isn't a comedy relying on fart jokes and lame puns. If anything, it's a satire of the British historical class system and sexual politics. But I didn't get satire. No, I got a painful reminder of just how dated and dreadfully boring that too many of these Best Picture winners are. Watching something like Tom Jones is an experience that would be mightily different when watched in 1963 as opposed to being watched in 2017, because oh how dated it is. There is essentially nothing I can do to recommend Tom Jones to a modern audience.
The plot in its silent film opening tells us of a baby that was discovered in the bed of Squire Allworthy (George Devine). Allworthy believes that the child was born out of lust between his barber, Mr. Partridge (Jack MacGowran) and one of his servants, Jenny Jones (Joyce Redman). Allworthy banishes the two and decides to raise the baby, given the name Tom Jones, as if he were his own son. Tom Jones grows up to be handsome and charming young lad, becoming very popular among the female crowd. Jones, however, truly loves one woman, the kind-hearted Sophie Western (Susannah York) who returns his affections. There's a problem with Tom Jones and Sophie Western being together: Tom is considered a bastard, and therefore cannot wed Sophie, a woman of her higher class. Sophie's parents attempt to wed her to the spiteful Blifil (David Warner), but Sophie despises him. Blifil and his men attempt to cast out Tom as a villain, and Allworthy decides to send Tom out on his own into the world, where Tom engages in a series of adventures.
I credit Tom Jones with this: it was certainly something different to see in regards to the story of a Best Picture winner. After you watch so many pure romance stories (a mixture of good and bad ones), it's refreshing to see something more exciting like a medieval adventure. At least, I wish I could say that Tom Jones is an exciting and fun adventure. Aside from a few sword fights and an elongated chase sequence involving dogs and men on horseback chasing a deer, there's nothing in this movie that I can consider exciting.
- Tom Jones isn't necessarily a bad movie, not from a production or acting standpoint. It makes it medieval setting look nice, and I am a little surprised it wasn't at least nominated for Best Cinematography (the winner for Color Cinematography that year was Cleopatra, which doesn't surprise me) that year. Aside from some pleasant visuals, there's nothing else in the movie that I can complement. It was about fifty some minutes in before my brain demanded that I turn the movie off. I didn't listen, even though I should have.
- The main drawback of Tom Jones is how it takes an absurdly long time to get started. Almost nothing important happens for the first hour, except watching Tom and Sophie fall in love. Tom doesn't start his adventures until the movie is about halfway through, and by that point, we are so bored out of our collective minds that it's incredibly difficult to possibly care about where Tom is going and what he's doing. The characters have little to no depth to them whatsoever, and any possible character development present in the first hour is incomprehensible to the fifth degree. Scenes are clumsily edited together with no kind of natural flow, and if it weren't for the narrator giving us updates as we go, I'm not sure how any sane person could keep up with who is who and what's going on.
It admittedly gave me some morbid satisfaction when I read that director Tony Richardson was dissatisfied with the final product. Richardson wrote in his autobiography that he considered the film incomplete and botched in its execution. Strange, because Richardson won Best Director for the film. I could not agree more though about Tom Jones being incomplete and botched in its execution. Tom Jones is a heavily dated film that provides no amusement to anyone who wasn't a fully functional human being in 1963. To the modern audience, it's an incredibly boring and laugh-less slog, hampered by confusing editing and a lack of noteworthy character development. I had painful reminders of Forgettable Best Picture Winners like From Here To Eternity and Cimarron while watching Tom Jones, because it brought out some of the worst feelings you can have while watching a movie: a lingering sense of boredom and the inability to truly care about what you're seeing on screen. Maybe it was a retrospective look at Tom Jones that made the Oscars stop giving Academy Awards to comedies. Probably not. I wouldn't rule it out, though.
Recommend? No. You are better off never watching this film.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: