81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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Tom Jones

September 24th, 2009 · No Comments · 1963, Adaptation, Color, Comedy, Henry Fielding, Hugh Griffith, Not Released In United States, Tom Jones, United Artists

Tom Jones After the grandeur of Lawrence of Arabia, Tom Jones looks like the work of a film-school student who didn’t graduate. This is sloppy, virtually unwatchable stuff. In fact, this may hold the distinction of being the worst Oscar-winning movie ever made. (To this point, at least.)

The direction and cinematography are amateurish and off-putting. The camera angles are strange. The choice of camera lenses is weird. The sound is muddy and the accents are thick (a bad combination). The acting is awful. The editing is so frenetic that I can only assume someone dropped acid before entering the cutting room. And the score is rife with the nerve-jangling sounds of a harpsichord.

To make matters worse (how could they be?), this grainy DVD transfer makes the whole God-awful, frenetic, unfocused mess look like an episode from the 1960s British TV series The Benny Hill Show.

No, wait! I know what’s worse than a frenetic episode of The Benny Hill Show: This wretched movie was nominated for 10 Academy Awards! Ten! It actually won four of them: Best Director (Tony Richardson), Best Music, Score – Substantially Original (John Addison), Best Picture (Tony Richardson), and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material From Another Medium (John Osbourne).

No. Friggin. Way.

I’m not sure I can say anything positive about this movie, other than I’m positive I’ll be happy when it’s over. No. That’s not true. I can say with profound glee that Tom Jones is another Best-Picture winner that is no longer in print in the United States. It can still be purchased on Amazon via Marketplace sellers. But it’s currently not being manufactured in the U.S. (I’d shed a tear except I’m saving them for the moment when I see “The End” on the screen.)

Nearly every other Oscar-winning movie that I’ve watched (save, perhaps, for two or three) has a timeless quality to it. The actors or their style may date the movie. Or perhaps the fact that it is in black and white may give away the year it was released. But Tom Jones looks, feels, and sounds like the 1960s or early 1970s – which is terribly unfortunate given that the story is set in the 1700s.

Tom Jones is another adaptation, the 26th out of 36 movies. And that, dear readers, means Hollywood has awarded Best-Picture Oscars to movies “based on material from another medium” 72% of the time.

This is one time Hollywood should have left the novel well enough alone.

Henry FieldingSpeaking of which (the novel, not Hollywood or leaving well enough alone), Tom Jones is based on the book The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling written by Henry Fielding (1707-1754) and published in 1749 (which explains the harpsichord-drenched score of the 1963 film).

Just to give you a flavor for what Fielding’s novel was like, here is the introduction to it:

Henry Fielding

The History of Tom Jones, a foundling.

CONTENTS

DEDICATION

BOOK I — CONTAINING AS MUCH OF THE BIRTH OF THE FOUNDLING AS IS NECESSARY OR PROPER TO ACQUAINT THE READER WITH IN THE BEGINNING OF THIS HISTORY.

Chapter i — The introduction to the work, or bill of fare to the
feast.

Chapter ii — A short description of squire Allworthy, and a fuller
account of Miss Bridget Allworthy, his sister.

Chapter iii — An odd accident which befel Mr Allworthy at his return
home. The decent behaviour of Mrs Deborah Wilkins, with some proper
animadversions on bastards.

Chapter iv — The reader’s neck brought into danger by a description;
his escape; and the great condescension of Miss Bridget Allworthy.

Chapter v — Containing a few common matters, with a very uncommon
observation upon them.

Chapter vi — Mrs Deborah is introduced into the parish with a
simile. A short account of Jenny Jones, with the difficulties and
discouragements which may attend young women in the pursuit of
learning.

Chapter vii — Containing such grave matter, that the reader cannot
laugh once through the whole chapter, unless peradventure he should
laugh at the author.

Chapter viii — A dialogue between Mesdames Bridget and Deborah;
containing more amusement, but less instruction, than the former.

Chapter ix — Containing matters which will surprize the reader.

Chapter x — The hospitality of Allworthy; with a short sketch of the
characters of two brothers, a doctor and a captain, who were
entertained by that gentleman.

The History of Tom JonesChapter xi — Containing many rules, and some examples, concerning
falling in love: descriptions of beauty, and other more prudential
inducements to matrimony.

Chapter xii — Containing what the reader may, perhaps, expect to find
in it.

Chapter xiii — Which concludes the first book; with an instance of
ingratitude, which, we hope, will appear unnatural.

BOOK II — CONTAINING SCENES OF MATRIMONIAL FELICITY IN DIFFERENT DEGREES OF LIFE; AND VARIOUS OTHER TRANSACTIONS DURING THE FIRST TWO YEARS AFTER THE MARRIAGE BETWEEN CAPTAIN BLIFIL AND MISS BRIDGET ALLWORTHY.

Chapter i — Showing what kind of a history this is; what it is like,
and what it is not like.

Chapter ii — Religious cautions against showing too much favour to
bastards; and a great discovery made by Mrs Deborah Wilkins.

If that all seems rather tedious that’s because it is. Perhaps Fielding thought his risque plot would give the book greater readership:

Tom Jones is a foundling discovered on the property of a very kind, wealthy landowner, Squire Allworthy, in Somerset in England’s West Country. Tom grows into a vigorous and lusty, yet honest and kind-hearted, youth. He develops affection for his neighbour’s daughter, Sophia Western. On one hand, their love reflects the romantic comedy genre that was popular in 18th-century Britain. However, Tom’s status as a bastard causes Sophia’s father and Allworthy to oppose their love; this criticism of class friction in society acted as a biting social commentary. The inclusion of prostitution and sexual promiscuity in the plot was also original for its time, and also acted as the foundation for criticism of the book’s “lowness.” (From its entry on Wikipedia.)

If you’re curious about how the whole sordid tale turns out, I suppose you could watch the movie. (If you must.) Or if you’re hankerin’ to read a novel published in the late 1700s, you can enjoy Fielding’s entire manuscript online at its Project Gutenberg EBook page. Either way, it’ll be a slow boat to Hades for you.

I should point out that Ernest Hemingway borrowed quotes from Henry Fielding to begin each of the four sections of his first novel, The Torrents Of Spring. Interesting.

But hardly the stuff upon which a movie should be made.

Especially not a deplorable movie like Tom Jones.

I’d list the actors, directors, screenwriters, etc., except I truly don’t care and want to be rid of this film as quickly as possible. If you’re dying to know who appeared in this movie, visit its entry on the Internet Movie Database.

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