36. Tom Jones (1964)

Title: Tom Jones

Release Date: 6 October, 1963

Oscar Ceremony: 13 April, 1964

Director: Tony Richardson

Starring: Albert Finney, Susannah York, Hugh Griffith


Nominees: America America, Cleopatra, How the West Was Won, Lilies of the Field


“Heroes, whatever high ideas we may have of them, are mortal and not divine. We are all as God made us, and many of us much worse.” – Narrator

I think I may have just watched the worst Best Picture winner thus far. It’s funny how this project makes me realize that when a movie looks bad, all it takes is another one to show you just how much worse it can get. Thank you Tom Jones, you’ve set the bar extraordinarily low. You and Cimarron.

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I’m going to spell it out for you from the start: Tom Jones is a flat-out slapstick comedy. If it had wit back in 1963, it certainly doesn’t show today. Between its predecessor (Lawrence of Arabia) and its successor (My Fair Lady), this movie is like a bizarre practical joke. It’s the easiest game of “One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others” you’ll ever play. It honestly lost me within the first couple of minutes. Nonetheless, I still feel obligated to summarize them for you.

The movie opens with a short silent-film sequence, in which a man named Squire Allworthy returns to his manor only to find an abandoned baby lying in his bed. Utterly shocked, the squire decides to banish its suspected parents (two servants) and raises the baby as his own. This little bastard grows up to be none other than our titular character, Tom Jones. He might be played by a very charming Albert Finney, but that still doesn’t save the movie. Anyways, Tom falls in love with this girl Sophie Western, but he has a pretty bad reputation, especially for galavanting along with a promiscuous woman named Molly. As a result, Sophie is intended to marry another man, and that man is Bilfil, who happens to be Tom’s cousin (except he is of legitimate brith and is the legal heir to Tom’s dad’s fortune). The thing is, Sophie is in love with Tom too, but life is life, and Bilfil manages to have Tom sent away. Will Tom be able to return and somehow end up with Sophie? (Who cares?)

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To be honest, I actually feel a little bit of remorse because this is the first movie that I did not fully watch. It was playing, but my mind was severely wandering off to more interesting things (homework, the dictionary, watching paint dry…) As a result, if you think I entirely missed the point, please enlighten me. You know I always welcome opposing opinions, especially when well-founded. To be fair, I actually started out trying to appreciate the movie. I was taking notes about how the homage to silent films was interesting, especially because it was in colour. I also noted how some of the shots were quite peculiar, and how the overall structure was unlike any other Best Picture winner I had ever seen. The people behind it took a risk and it might have paid off for the Academy, but not for me. I know what you’re thinking: “The producers of Tom Jones couldn’t care less about a 24 year-old girl born in 1992.” You’re probably 100% right, but this is MY blog, so my biased opinion is the one you’re going to get.

You know what I think it is? Hollywood had been overdoing it with its ridiculously long historical epics that took themselves too seriously and people were sick of it. Consequently, things went the EXACT opposite way and somehow Tom Jones ended up winning. Its fellow nominees weren’t exactly the best options either. The other thing is that 1963 wasn’t a very cheery year; JFK got assassinated, the Vietnam War was underway… People needed something unapologetically stupid to boost morale. On another note, 1963 was also a prevalent time for the British Invasion, what with Beatlemania and James Bond gaining ridiculous popularity in America. Maybe I should have mentionned that Tom Jones is a British production.

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All in all, movies like Tom Jones must be the reason why the Academy doesn’t give awards to comedies anymore. While I admire its boldness and the unconventional way in which it transformed the novel it was based on, I just didn’t find it funny or clever enough to make up for its dullness. Then again, crude medieval slapstick satire is not my favourite genre out there, so I may not be the best person to ask. Until today, I had never heard of Tom Jones, but I can’t say that my life has changed for the better now that I have. That’s 2 hours of my life I’ll never get back.

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