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maryann johanson | watching movies at home

Tom Jones (review)

Pretty Maids All in a Row

Tom Jones is one of those movies I appreciate more than I enjoy. Though based on Henry Fielding’s classic 18th-century novel, it seems at times little more than an excuse to revel in the licentiousness of the burgeoning free-love atmosphere of the 1960s.

Tom Jones (Albert Finney) is born under suspicious circumstances, the illegitimate child of servants, he believes. Raised by the lord of a country manor, he nevertheless ends up a “a bad hero with many a weakness.” He won’t have virtue or religion beaten into him, and he snubs his nose at proper society. He has a convenient excuse, after all — he’s a bastard.

Thrown out his adoptive father’s house, he’s forced to seek his fortune in London, separated from his true love, Sophie (Susannah York). The memory of her doesn’t stop him, however, from bedding every wench and high-born woman who crosses his path — roguishly handsome with a killer smile, he barely has to say hello before they throw themselves at him.

Kind of like a bawdy Jane Austen novel as written by a man, this is a frolicking, raunchy comedy about sexual impropriety in which only those behaving improperly are having any fun. Directed by Tony Richardson, Tom Jones is highly stylized, weirdly dubbed in spots, and full of double-time chases that TV’s Benny Hill would later imitate. The cheeky voiceovers and especially the characters’ snarky asides to the camera broke film’s “fourth wall” in a way that hasn’t really been duplicated since — Tom Jones’s brand of self-reference has mostly limited itself to television; The Garry Shandling Show is one recent example.

Did I like Tom Jones? I don’t know. It certainly is different from every Best Picture that’s come before. I’m just not sure if that’s a good thing.

Oscars Best Picture 1963
unforgettable movie moment:
The most sensuous eating scene in filmdom till Tampopo.

previous Best Picture:
1962: Lawrence of Arabia
next Best Picture:
1964: My Fair Lady

go> the complete list of Oscar-winning Best Pictures

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