Tom Jones (1963)

The first British film to win the Best Picture Oscar since Laurence Olivier’s “Hamlet,” in 1948, “Tom Jones” made its star, Albert Finney, a household name in America.

Based on Henry Fielding’s famous novel, which was adapted to the screen by playwright John Osborne, it features Finney as the adventurous, amorous illegitimate son of a servant in eighteenth-century England.

Osborne has condensed considerably Fileding’s 1749 sprawling, episodic adventure to fit a feature-length (running time is 131 minute) film.  Director Tony Richardson treats the text as a slapstick rollicking material, inspired by silent film comedy devices, such as titles, wipes, slow-motion, etc.

Osborn and Richardson depart from the tradition of “kitchen-sink” realism that had marked their earlier works, manifest in the play and movie “Look Back in Anger.” Stylistically, Richardson also borrows from the French New Wave in using his camera in a dynamic and jazzy way.

“Tom Jones” was a commercial success prior to winning the 1963 Oscar and a smash-hit afterward; this period comedy is one of the most popular films of the entire decade.

Several set-pieces are fantastically entertaining, such as the stag hunt at the estate of Griffith; the bedroom farce at the inn, and most memorable of all, Albert Finney and Joyce Redman staring at each other, while never stopping ripping food apart and stuffing it in their mouths, a scene that’s both funny and strangely erotic.

“Tom Jones” is the only film in the Academy’s annals to garner three Supporting Actress nominations.  All three Brit thespians were deserving: Dame Edith Evans, as the intrepid aunt; Diane Cilento, as the wild gatekeeper’s daughter; and best of all, Joyce Redman, as a lady of easy virtue who seduces the hero over a large meal in what became the film’s best remembered sequence.

Production values are high, particularly cinematography by Walter Lassally (which won the Oscar), editing, and music score.

Oscar Context

“Tom Jones” was far superior to all the other nominees in 1963: Kazan’s dreary autobiographical drama “America, America;” Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s problematic “Cleopatra,” which almost sank its studio Fox; the tired, old-fashioned anthology, “How the West Was Won;” and “Lilies of the Field,” which won Sidney Poitier the Best Actor Oscar, thus depriving Finney of the honor.

Reel Impact

As a result of the film’s enormous popularity, many people read (or reread) Fielding’s novel, which placed the book into the best-seller list.

Actor Alert

Lynn Redgrave, the younger sister of Vanessa, made her screen debut in this picture, though she got her breakthrough role three years letter in the comedy “Georgy Girl,” for which she was Oscar-nominated.

Cast

Tom Jones (Albert Finney)
Sophie Western (Susanna York)
Squire Western (Hugh Griffith)
Miss Western (Edith Evans)
Lady Bellaston (Joan Greenwood)
Molly Seagrim (Diane Cilento)
Squire Allworthy (George Devine)
Mrs. Walters/Jenny Jones (Joyce Redman) 

 

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