“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.”
- – The Narrator
Winner of four Academy Awards including Best Picture, director Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones is notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that it bested Lilies of the Field, Cleopatra, America America and How the West Was Won for Oscar’s top prize. The main reason the film is an essential piece of cinema has everything to do with star Albert Finney. What would be the first of five Academy Award nominations, Finney made himself an instant star with his charmingly roguish performance as the titular character, a chivalrous bastard adopted by a wealthy landowner who is just as ready to defend the downtrodden as he is to randily chase anything walking around in skirt. It’s a titanic performance, as charismatic a star turn as any I’ve ever seen, and it’s hard to believe the motion picture would have been anything close to the critical and box office hit it became had Richardson not chosen him to portray the character.
Which is a good thing because, if I’m being honest, the movie itself hasn’t exactly aged particularly well. While an enjoyable lark filled with a number of giddily enjoyable moments, this adaptation of Henry Fielding’s novel is oftentimes a fairly uneven and scattershot affair with extended sequences that frankly do not work particularly well. The narration becomes obnoxious and forced, while some of supporting performances tend to fall on the bland side of the equation. Other than a delectably forceful and exuberant performance from Susannah York as the woman Tom Jones will eventually fall madly in love with, I honestly can’t say any of the actors stood out to me in any noticeable way, and considering their collective importance this isn’t exactly a positive turn of events to say the least.
But Finney is just magnificent, giving a performance so light on its feet it’s a wonder he didn’t fly away into the sky during filming. The movie also looks incredible, Walter Lassally’s (Zorba the Greek) cinematography and Ralph Brinton’s (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner) Oscar-nominated production design both superb. As for Richardson, he directs with his typical subtlety confident hand, smartly keeping Finney front and center at all times, staging a number of sensational sequences that are so gosh darn entertaining bringing up aspects of the film one doesn’t particularly care for or tend to think are all that good ends up feeling like nothing short of a colossal waste of time.
I can’t say I love Tom Jones, but for all the reasons highlighted above I do find it an absolute joy to watch for the majority of its just over two-hour running time. If Richardson’s film isn’t perfect, thanks to Finney it frequently feels as if it is, all of which ends up making this 18th century-set slice of heroic debauchery incredibly difficult to forget.
Tom Jones is presented on two 50GB Blu-rays (MPEG-4 AVC Video) with a 1.66:1 1080p transfer. As stated in the included booklet: “Two versions of the film are presented here: the original 1963 theatrical version, which won the Academy Award for best picture, and the 1989 director’s cut, created by Tony Richardson and editor Robert Lambert. Digital restoration was undertaken from a 16-bit 4K film scan created using Northlight 2 and DFT Scanity film scanners. The 35mm interpositives and two 35mm internegatives from various years were used where the negative was damaged, was missing shots or frames, or demonstrated inferior image quality.
Once the film assemble was complete with all the best footage identified, Tom Jones was graded at Deluxe in Culver City, California, according to detailed instructions from director of photography Walter Lassally. A second grading session took place at L’Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy, where Lassally were thought the film to adjust colors and density, paying special attention to the day-for-night scenes. The supervised color was then sent to Lambert for additional review. Making all of the footage look uniform was the biggest challenge of this restoration; wipes and transitions also posed difficulties. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, and splices were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for jitter, flicker, small dirt, grain, and noise management.”
The Theatrical Version Blu-ray features an English DTS-HD Master Audio LPCM Mono track while the Director’s Cut Blu-ray features an English DTS-HD Master Audio LPCM 2.0 track. Again, from the included booklet: “The original monaural soundtrack for the theatrical version was created from original 35mm mono magnetic master, and the stereo sound for the director’s cut was created from the 1989 35mm Dolby A magnetic master. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX.”
Extras here include:
New program on the film’s cinematography featuring a conversation between Walter Lassally and critic Peter Cowie (24:32)
New interview with film scholar Duncan Petrie on the movie’s impact on British cinema (22:18)
New interview with the director’ cut editor, Robert Lambert (10:04)
The Dick Cavett Show featuring actor Albert Finney (4:32)
Interview with actor Vanessa Redgrave on director Tony Richardson (10:13)
Illustrated archival audio interview with composer John Addison on his Oscar-winning score for the film (7:53)
Also included is a Collectible Illustrated Booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Neil Sinyard.
Tom Jones is a magnificently entertaining motion picture, and while I’m not one to say it’s quite the masterpiece it was lauded as back in 1963, that does not mean it still isn’t an essential piece of cinema worthy of multiple looks. Criterion has outdone themselves with this set, presenting two versions of the film that help give essential insight into the great director Tony Richardson and his creative process. This two-disc set comes highly recommended.