Tom Jones is a 1963 British comedy film, an adaptation of Henry Fielding's classic 1749 novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, starring Albert Finney as the titular hero. It was one of the most critically acclaimed and popular comedies of its time, and won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film was produced and directed by Tony Richardson and the screenplay was adapted by playwright John Osborne.
|Directed by||Tony Richardson|
|Screenplay by||John Osborne|
|Based on||The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling|
by Henry Fielding
|Produced by||Tony Richardson|
|Narrated by||Micheál Mac Liammóir|
|Edited by||Antony Gibbs|
|Music by||John Addison|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Budget||$1 million (£467,000)|
|Box office||$37.6 million|
Tom Jones was a success both critically and at the box office. At the 36th Academy Awards, it was nominated for ten Oscars, winning four: Best Picture, Best Director for Richardson, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score. It also won two Golden Globe Awards, including Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy, and three BAFTA Awards, including Best Film and Best British Film.
This article's plot summary may be too long or excessively detailed. (October 2021)
The film begins with a silent film sequence, with subtitles, during which Squire Allworthy returns to his estate after a lengthy stay in London and discovers a baby in his bed. Thinking that one of his maids, Jenny Jones, and his barber, Mr. Partridge, conceived the illegitimate baby out of lust, the squire banishes them. He names the infant Tom Jones and chooses to raise him as if he were his own son; Tom grows up loving him like a father.
Tom becomes a lively young man whose good looks and kind heart make him very popular with girls and women. He truly loves only the gentle Sophie Western (Sophia, "Sophy", in the novel), daughter of a neighbour, who returns his love. Tom is stigmatized as a "bastard" and cannot wed a young lady of her class. Sophie, too, must hide her feelings while her aunt and her father, Squire Western, try to coerce her to marry someone they think more suitable, the nephew of Squire Allworthy.
This young man is Mr. Blifil, the son of Squire Allworthy's widowed sister Bridget. Although of legitimate birth and appropriate class, he is an ill-natured prig with plenty of hypocritical 'virtue.' When Bridget dies unexpectedly, Blifil intercepts a letter, which his mother intended for his uncle's eyes only. The letter's contents are not revealed until late in the film. But after his mother's funeral, Blifil and his two tutors, Mr. Thwackum and Mr. Square (who also tutored Tom), join forces to convince the squire that Tom is a villain. Allworthy gives Tom a substantial cash legacy (500 pounds, worth over $125,000 in 2021) and sorrowfully sends him out into the world to seek his fortune.
In his odyssey on the roads, Tom is knocked unconscious while defending the good name of his beloved Sophie and robbed of his legacy. He also flees from a jealous Irishman who falsely accuses him of having an affair with his wife, Sophie's cousin; engages in deadly sword fights, rescues a Mrs. Waters from a British army officer, and later beds her. Before that occurs, Tom and Mrs. Waters have a celebrated scene in which they wordlessly and voraciously consume a hearty meal while gazing lustfully at each other. Later, Tom meets Partridge, his alleged biological father, and engages him as a servant.
Meanwhile, Sophie runs away from home soon after Tom is banished, in order to escape the attentions of the loathed Blifil. After narrowly missing each other at the Upton Inn, Tom and Sophie arrive separately in London. There, Tom attracts the attention of Lady Bellaston, a noblewoman over 40 years of age who is attracted to the "pretty boy". She is rich, beautiful, and completely amoral. She invites Tom to a masked ball at Vauxhall Gardens and seduces him. Tom goes to her bed willingly and is generously rewarded for his services with a suit of fine clothes.
Lady Bellaston tries to force Sophia into marriage to a lord by having her raped by him so that she can have Jones to herself. Sophia is saved when her father bursts in.
Hoping to disentangle himself from the affair with Lady Bellaston, Tom writes to her proposing marriage, knowing she will reject the proposal and him. She does, but she also shows the proposal letter to Sophia, who writes to Tom breaking off all contact with him.
Tom visits Sophia's cousin, Mrs. Fitzpatrick, to ask her to speak on his behalf to Sophia. Mr. Fitzpatrick sees him leaving and, assuming his earlier suspicions of an affair between Tom and Mrs. Fitzpatrick were correct, engages him in a duel. The sword fight ends in the wounding of Mr. Fitzpatrick and the crowd thinks Tom was robbing him. Tom ends up at Tyburn Gaol, sentenced to hang for robbery and murder.
Partridge runs into Mrs. Waters and recognises her as the former Jenny Jones, Tom's alleged mother. He tells her that the man she 'met' is her alleged son and that he is awaiting execution. Squire Allworthy is troubled to hear that Tom has apparently been involved in incest. However, Mrs. Waters visits Mr. Allworthy and tells him the truth: Tom is not Jenny Jones's child, but his sister Bridget's illegitimate son and thus Allworthy's nephew. Allworthy also learns of the mysterious letter that was supposed to reveal this. Since Blifil knew of the letter, concealed it, and tried to destroy his half-brother, Allworthy disinherits him.
Allworthy also learns that Mr. Fitzpatrick has recovered and withdrawn the charge against Tom. Allworthy uses this knowledge to get Tom a pardon, but it arrives too late: Tom has been conveyed to the gallows; the noose is around his neck. Squire Western, who has been apprised of Tom's new status as Allworthy's only heir, cuts him down as he begins to hang and takes him to Sophie.
Tom has permission to court Sophie, and all ends well with Tom embracing Sophie with both Squire Western's and his uncle's blessings. Squire Western predicts a child will be born "tomorrow and ninemonth".
Tom "lives to love another day".
- Albert Finney as Tom Jones
- Susannah York as Sophie Western
- Hugh Griffith as Squire Western
- Edith Evans as Miss Western
- Joan Greenwood as Lady Bellaston
- Diane Cilento as Molly Seagrim
- George Devine as Squire Allworthy
- David Tomlinson as Lord Fellamar
- Rosalind Atkinson as Mrs. Millar
- Wilfrid Lawson as Black George
- Rosalind Knight as Mrs. Fitzpatrick
- Jack MacGowran as Partridge
- Freda Jackson as Mrs. Seagrim
- David Warner as Blifil
- Joyce Redman as Mrs. Waters/Jenny Jones
- James Cairncross as Parson Supple
- Rachel Kempson as Bridget Allworthy
- Peter Bull as Thwackum
- Angela Baddeley as Mrs. Wilkins
- George A. Cooper as Fitzpatrick
- Jack Stewart as MacLachlan
- Patsy Rowlands as Honour
- John Moffatt as Square
- Avis Bunnage as Innkeeper
- Mark Dignam as Lieutenant
- Michael Brennan as Jailer at Newgate
- Lynn Redgrave as Susan (Her film debut)
- Redmond Phillips as Lawyer Dowling
- Julian Glover as Northerton
While the British production company Bryanston Films was hesitating over whether to make the film in colour, it went bankrupt. United Artists stepped in to finance the film and make it a colour production.
Overall the production faced challenges of disasters, near-disasters and squabbles caused by films being shot on location in the spotty English weather. The film has an unusual comic style: The opening sequence has subtitles and brisk action in the manner of a silent film. Later in the film, characters sometimes break the fourth wall, often by looking directly into the camera and addressing the audience. In one scene the character of Tom Jones suddenly appears to notice the camera and covers the lens with his hat. Another unusual feature is an unseen narrator, voiced by Micheál Mac Liammóir. His mock-serious commentaries between certain scenes deplore the action of several characters as well as the weaknesses in human character, and he provides a poetic denouement for the film.
Despite its success, director Tony Richardson said that he was dissatisfied with the final product. In his autobiography, Richardson wrote that he "felt the movie to be incomplete and botched in much of its execution. I am not knocking that kind of success – everyone should have it – but whenever someone gushes to me about Tom Jones, I always cringe a little inside."
John Osborne, in adapting the screenplay from Henry Fielding's novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749), truncated and removed notable episodes and characters from the book. He ends the film with the narrator's quoting from a portion of John Dryden's poetic translation of Horace's Ode: To Maecenas:
"Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today."
Castle Street in Bridgwater, Somerset was used as a location in several scenes. Cinematographer Walter Lassally has said that he thought the location unit got on very well together under the circumstances and that the experience was satisfying. He thought Richardson rather lost his way in post-production, endlessly fixing what was not really broken.
The film was reissued in 1989 by The Samuel Goldwyn Company. For this release, Richardson trimmed the film by seven minutes. It is available through the Criterion Collection, paired with the original version.
Time magazine's review stated "The film is a way-out, walleyed, wonderful exercise in cinema. It is also a social satire written in blood with a broadaxe. It is bawdy as the British were bawdy when a wench had to wear five petticoats to barricade her virtue".
Rich Gold of Variety wrote "Though Tom Jones is a period piece and very different it has the same lustiness and boisterous content with which to project the star. It should breeze its way cheerfully through the box office figures. It has sex, Eastmancolor, some prime performers and plenty of action. Tony Richardson has directed John Osborne's screenplay with verve, though, occasionally, he falls back on camera tricks and editing which are disconcerting".
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 80% based on retrospective reviews from 41 critics, with an average rating of 7.5/10. The site's consensus states: "A frantic, irreverent adaptation of the novel, bolstered by Albert Finney's courageous performance and arresting visuals." On Metacritic, it has a score of 77 out of 100, based on reviews from 15 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
The film was financially successful on its initial release in 1963. It came third for the year in British box-office receipts, and was the fourth most popular in the United States. Produced on a budget of $1 million, it earned $16 million in rentals in the United States and Canada, and another $4 million in markets other than the UK and U.S. Finney received 10% of the film's earnings.
Tom Jones is the only film in the history of the Academy Awards in which three actresses were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Margaret Rutherford won the category for her role in The V.I.P.s).
- Film giants step into finance The Observer 19 Apr 1964: 8.
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