One of the great joys of talking to you in these pages of new blu-ray editions of a classic film is that I get to see new to me films from time to time as part of it. Talking about movies has always been a part of this column since it began in 2006, I love sharing with my readers about movies that I really want them to check out. This week is no exception and hits both of those marks for me. Last night I watched for the first time Director Tony Richardson’s 1963 claimed and Oscar-winning film “Tom Jones.” The film, which was released this week in a new two-disc blu-ray edition from The Criterion Collection, is an absolute delight from start to finish. I can’t begin to express what a truly enjoyable evening I had with this movie.
The film is an adaptation of the 1749 novel by Henry Fielding, written for the screen by playwright John Osborne. Albert Finney plays the title role, and he’s absolutely delightful in it. He sparkling with a charming wit and a wink each scene he’s in. The film was a career-defining role for him. Jones is a rapscallion, born of “illegitimate means” brought up in the house he was “dropped” in—a house of a true English gent with land, money, servants and all the trappings of a British yarn of “ye olden.” Through his various misadventures, Jones is led-astray from the sights of the one he loves truly, his neighbor’s well to do offspring Sophie, played by Susannah York. Jones is kicked out of his “to the manor born” life and Sophie soon after takes off to find him, both heading towards London.
This movie was such a joyous surprise. I knew some of the film’s reputation as I’m a HUGE fan of Tony Richardson’s follow up to “Tom Jones,” 1965’s “The Loved One,” which I talked about last year. “The Loved One” is such a brash and daring film, even today, and especially of 1965. The success of “Tom Jones” gave Richardson the chance to make any film he wanted, and he took full advantage of that offer. Unlike a lot of “ye olden” film adaptations, Richardson gives “Tom Jones” this amazing, self-aware, swinging London vibe. I’d even go so far as to call it “Beatle-esq.”
The pre-title sequence plays out like a silent film, and characters often break the fourth wall, acknowledging the camera and the audience, playing directly to them. The movie was a massive success worldwide, earning ten Oscar nominations, and winning four: best picture, best director, best-adapted screenplay, and best score. It was one of the most acclaimed comedies of its ear, and it still holds up beautifully. If I wasn’t laughing, I frequently found myself just smiling as I watched the picture.
The Criterion Collection brings “Tom Jones” to blu-ray in America with a set that includes both the 1963 theatrical cut and Tony Richardson’s 1989 director’s cut, which trims seven minutes of time from the movie. From what I could gather, the film isn’t changed too significantly between the two different versions, minor cuts seem to have been made here and there. The biggest change would be the film’s soundtrack getting a stereo re-mix for the 1989 version. Both versions of the film are presented in a beautiful looking 4K restoration supervised by the film’s director of photography, Walter Lassally.
Bonus material includes an interview with Lassally on the film’s look, a talk with scholar Duncan Petrie on the film’s impact on British Cinema, a snippet from an episode of “The Dick Cavett Show” with Finney, an interview with Vanessa Redgrave on Richardson (the two were married for a time in the ‘60s), archival interviews, and a piece with the editor of the director’s cut about the difference between it and the theatrical version. As would be expected, Criterion has knocked this one out of the park. The 4K restoration has amazing colors, there was a helicopter shot of lush, green English countryside and richness of the green was quite striking.
I can’t highly recommend this movie enough! It’s a pure joy and delight from its first frame to its last. This one should go on your Criterion want list immediately. What a welcomed addition to the home library. See you next week.