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Tom Jones (April 18, 2013)

Tom Jones was a novel by Henry Fielding, who was born in 1707 and died in 1754. Fielding himself was the son of a man imprisoned for debt, as was Dickens in the century following, and although Fielding made a living by his pen he was never far from debt himself. This picture was filmed from June through August 1963 by the British producer/director Tony Richardson who had already made several very successful films including Look Back in Anger and A Taste of Honey. Locations included places in Dorset and Somerset. The critic David Thomson wrote, “That sense of a rural society is the best thing about the picture.” The screenplay was written by John Osborne, the English playwright. The cinematographer was Walter Lassally. Music was by John Addison, and the production design was by Ralph Brinton. It starred Albert Finney, whose starring role in the movie Saturday Night and Sunday Morning in 1960 had gotten him a lot of notice, and a bouquet of established and young British actors of the time including Diane Cilento, Susannah York, Hugh Griffith, Lynn Redgrave, Joan Greenwood, Joyce Redman and Edith Evans. The narrator is Micheál Mac Liammóir.

Before this movie, 18th century English literature had rarely made its way to the screen, except for the often-filmed Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels. There was a mini-boomlet of movies based on that period’s novels after this film’s extraordinary success. It made almost $17 million at the box office in the United States alone, on an investment of $1 million. Tony Richardson combined several memorable old-timey comic elements that didn’t necessarily derive from the 18th century origins of the novel – visual styles from silent movies like wipes and sped-up motion; the squeezebox soundtrack; and characters acknowledging the camera directly. Characters speak directly into it, but the cheekiest instance is when Tom Jones covers the camera lens with his hat. The cinematographer Walter Lassally remembers that Richardson lost his way during post-production and, to Lassally’s mind, over-edited the film seeking to try to make it funnier. Lassally said that often at that point in a film a producer would take over and relieve a director from making decisions on editing. Since Richardson produced as well as directed, there wasn’t anyone to provide that relief. Lassally also remembered Richardson’s generous gift of small percentages of the film gross to several key technical crew members, something that was uncommon at the time. Most of Lassally’s photographic crew were quickly promoted into other jobs after the success of the picture.

At the Oscars, Tom Jones won best picture. Tony Richardson won for best director, John Addison won for his original music score, and John Osborne won for best adapted screenplay. Nominated for Oscars were Albert Finney for best actor, and Hugh Griffith (who plays Squire Western) for best supporting actor. Ralph Brinton, Ted Marshall, Jocelyn Herbert and Josie MacAvin were nominated for best art direction-set direction, color. This was the only film in Oscar history where three actresses were nominated for best supporting actress – Diane Cilento (who plays Molly Seagrim), Edith Evans (who plays Miss Western) and Joyce Redman (who plays Mrs. Waters).

The reason it’s in this series, though, is the famous eating and seduction scene between Albert Finney and Joyce Redman. I hope you enjoy watching Tom Jones with me tonight.