Friday, June 13, 2014

Tom Jones (Best Picture 1963)

The Best Picture of 1963 is a comedy that is not funny.
Tom Jones is a comedy in the same way that all of Shakespeare's non-tragedies and non-historical dramas are considered "comedies." However, I challenge you to laugh while watching this film.

Tom Jones starts off as a silent film, with a piano music and dialogue cards. I have no idea why; to suggest an earlier age? Squire Allworthy had been away on a trip for nearly a year, but when he returns he finds a newborn in his bed. He and his spinster sister confront one of the staff and her boyfriend, and when she admits that the child is hers, they send both away. The Squire and his sister decide to raise the child as their own.
Fast forward twenty years and young Tom is a handsome, lusty lad played by Albert Finney. He is in love with Sophie, played by Susannah York. She is the daughter of another landed gentleman, Squire Western (an eccentric Hugh Griffith). Although Tom loves Sophie, he doesn't let this stop him from sleeping with a woman in the village, and eventually every available woman he meets through the course of the film! Even though Sophie knows that Tom, being a bastard, is below her station and not entitled to Squire Allworthy's estate, she still loves him. Even after Sophie realizes that Tom is something of a player, she still loves him!
In the interim Tom's aunt has married and lost a husband, but has given birth to a son. Tom's cousin, Blifel (a terrifically slimy David Warner), are polar opposites: Tom is happy, fun, and loving, but Blifel is dark, serious, and angry. When Blifel's mother dies in a carriage accident, the rest of the film revolves around Blifel battling Tom for the affections of Squire Allworthy. Tom is eventually sent away, not knowing why, and heads towards London. Sophie also escapes to London rather than marry Blifel. After another 90 minutes of hijinks (think "The Perils of Pauline" meets "Benny Hill") all is well and the story ends happily.

It is very hard to understand the attraction of this film fifty years on. Was it considered risque at the time, and therefore socially significant? For example, there is one scene in an inn where Tom and Mrs. Waters (Joyce Redman) are eating dinner. The scene is just them, cutting back and forth between them as they eat. It is supposedly highly erotic, but I failed to understand the subtleties. Am I too jaded? They are eating oysters, for example. So this is supposed to suggest that they are getting in the mood to have sex, right? Maybe this was highly erotic stuff in 1963, but today it's just kind of...people eating.

How about now?
It was fun to watch Albert Finney, who seems to be enjoying himself here. Knowing him mostly as a middle-aged character actor from films like Murder On The Orient Express and Erin Brockovich, it was neat to see him gallivant through this role. Likewise, Susannah York and David Warner are wonderful supporting players. Oddly enough, neither York nor Warner were nominated for their roles. Finney was nominated for Best Actor, and although Paul Newman was considered the likely winner for Hud, the Oscar went to Sidney Poitier for Lilies Of The Field. This was the first African-American man to win an Academy Award, and the second African-American to ever win (after Hattie McDaniel won as Best Supporting Actress in 1939).  Speaking of Best Supporting Actresses, Tom Jones boasted three nominees in the same category, the only time this has ever happened: Diane Cilento as Molly, Tom's, Edith Evans as Sophie's aunt, and Joyce Redman as Mrs. Waters. However, the Oscar went to Margaret Rutherford for The VIPs. I know her from the Miss Marple films of this era.
There is nothing particularly bad about the movie Tom Jones. On the other hand, I would be hard-pressed to call it a great film, either. I recommend you listen to The Greatest Hits of (another) Tom Jones instead.
Tom Jones
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1963*
Produced by Tony Richardson
Directed  by Tony Richardson
Screenplay by John Osborne

"The whole world loves Tom Jones!"
...or so he says.

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
America, America
How The West Was Won
Lilies of the Field
America, America is a semi-autobiographical film written, directed, and produced by Elia Kazan starring an unknown actor. Cleopatra is three hours of Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison, and Richard Burton destroying Egypt (and Twentieth-Century Fox). How The West Was Won is an EPIC story of various travelers as they head West, helmed by four different directors. And Lilies of the Field is basically a monologue by Sydney Poitier as he works for a bunch of nuns who don't speak very much English. It's a wonderful film, but not a Best Picture.

Extra Added Bonus: 

 "Everybody loves Tom Jones!"

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