It was voted best picture of 1963. Five of it’s leading actors were Oscar nominated. Its director and its screenplay won Oscars. And yet…..
It’s largely overlooked today.
The august British Film Institute named Tom Jones as the 51st greatest British film of the 20th century. But that strikes us as faint praise.
We suspect that the film’s commercial success — it was a big box office hit — may perversely be held against it. Also, the movie was strictly a British production although with Hollywood financing.
Then there is the age factor. As of this year only three members of its large principal cast are still with us. (Finney died last February at the age of 82.) The film may also be in the uneasy transition between modern “masterpiece” and “respectable” vintage classic.
And we suspect that because modern audiences have little or no idea who novelist Henry Fielding was, they may not full appreciate the movie as an updated version of a piece of bawdy 18th century English literature.
The movie’s mock-serious tone may be off-putting to those who expect their best picture Academy Award winners to be earnest efforts addressing some important contemporary social issue. (Comedy has rarely prospered at the Academy.)
The movie’s roistering plot revolves about Tom’s antic adventures as the bastard son of an initially unknown couple who is adopted and raised by a British squire. Playing a sunny, high-spirited type who truly enjoys the company of women, Finney has much fun in the lead as he romances widely and narrowly escapes phony robbery and murder charges.
As directed by Tony Richardson, Tom Jones excels in a number of inventive cinematographic techniques: actors addressing the audience directly thus breaking the so-called fourth wall; a wry narration from Michael Mac Liammoir; and the incorporation of silent movie-style scenes.
Finney, Hugh Griffith, Diane Cilento, Edith Evans and Joyce Redman were of nominated for Oscars (none won). Tom Jones won the best picture nod, Richardson won as best director, John Addison won for his musical score; and John Osborne won for best adapted screenplay.
The movie seems to have had everything: a literary back round, a strong cast of British actors, comedy, sex and commercial appeal. Why then, has it been consigned to the forgotten bin?