Tom Jones (1963)
Crackling with sexual themes through and through, it's a wonder that "Tom Jones" ever managed to eek out an Oscar nomination. Yet with an impressive ten nominations and four wins (including the coveted Best Picture category), it would seem that many people appreciated the adult humor that this period piece brought to the table (both figurative and literal).
A film that helped launch Albert Finney's career, "Tom Jones" is forgotten most of the time when mentioning the films that have raked in the big awards at the Oscars. When up against movies like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" or "No Country for Old Men"; it's easy to see why. But then again, "Tom Jones" is unlike anything that I've seen from the year and era it was made.
If you were to take out the zane of the picture—the wittiness, the merciless editing, the happy score, the playful innuendos that never cease—you would be left with a dramatic combination of "Pride and Prejudice" and "Dangerous Liaisons".
Based on the "steamy" 1749 novel, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding; "Tom Jones" makes no qualms with using every trick in the book (or movie, as the case may demand) to reaffirm its oddity.
Before getting into the actual plot, which seems mundane when you write it down, it should be noted that "Tom Jones" is filmed with a ruthless hilarity. Jumping from one scene to the next with no care, the movie employs many techniques that seem out of place in the 17th century. There is a fast-forward section set to quick music (similar to "A Clockwork Orange"), breaking the fourth wall, and freeze frames which lead up to other gems.
Now, the plot: Tom Jones is an orphan son who was found by a rich man and his sister. Raising the child as his own and giving him a proper education, the man felt that he had treated the boy justly. But Tom didn't care about the philosophies and religions that he was taught, he would much rather have inappropriate relations with all the local women.
The women find Tom irresistible and vice versa—hist acts being unthinkable and unspeakable, the people hush their mouths and don't say anything about the reputation that Mr. Jones is gaining for himself.
Keep in mind the year that this was made: there isn't going to be much spice on the screen. But the jokes are a gentle reminder that "Midnight Cowboy" would come just a few years later. "Tom Jones" prepares the way for other, more adult movies to follow.
A charming man, Tom is naive and sophisticated in the same breath—putting it as nicely as possible, Tom is a womanizer.
Then there's Sophie Western, the woman that Tom becomes interested in. He wishes to pledge his undying love to her and win her heart—which is easy enough. But his past follows him around, rather his past lovers do. After a run-in with one of the local women, Tom's reputation is muddied. Yet he keeps on pursuing Sophie and every time...he almost gets her. He looses her again and again to foolishness, drunkenness, and pure bad luck.
Somewhat of a situational comedy, "Tom Jones" enjoys showing over-the-top performance; while gently critiquing the class that it represents.
Not having read the enormous novel, I cannot say whether the bizarreness of "Tom Jones" compares to the book. But I like it better this way—it's a stand alone piece and should be viewed only as such.
Chaos sets in, the situations get more outlandish, and you begin to wonder how the censors let so much slide by.
At the beginning of one sex scene, we cut away before we see anything and the narrator tells us that this is for prudence, for well-being, and to placate the censors. He makes other such comments throughout the film.
But to make up for lack of nudity, the sexual comments abound time after time—even jokes about rape are made.
If anything, this film predates "Airplane!".
Probably the most infamous scene of the film involves Tom Jones and a woman eating dinner across from each other...it's amazing how sexual pears, apples, and oysters can be made to look.
All that being said, "Tom Jones" starts to sound like a borderline pornographic movie...it is not. It sounds worse on paper than it actually is...it's a kid's movie compared with some current comedies.
Surprisingly crass and full of purposeful melodrama, "Tom Jones" is a movie that manages to hold its own with the company it keeps while still proving to be one of the most unique Best Picture winners to date.
Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4
Posted by Micah Jones