Review by Gordon Justesen
Finney, Susannah York, Hugh Griffith, Edith Evans, Joan Greenwood
Director: Tony Richardson
Audio: PCM Stereo, PCM Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.66:1
Features: See Review
Length: 121 Minutes
Release Date: February 27, 2018
“It is widely held that too much wine will dull a man’s desire. Indeed it will...in a dull man.”
Tom Jones is fascinating when you take into account the time period in which it came out. The year was 1963, and the British New Wave film movement was in full swing. And yet, here was a classically conceived costume drama that seemed to be something of an antithesis to the work being done in New Wave...and no less directed by one of the founding members of the establishment in Tony Richardson.
The film itself is one of unyielding whimsical charm. It is also one filled with humor that, in a pre-MPAA period, was very bold and risky. It was a worldwide sensation at the time, going on to winning multiple Oscars including Best Picture, and it has not lost any of its bite more than fifty years later.
Adapted from Henry Fielding’s novel, the movie features a star making performance from Albert Finney in the title role. Born out of wedlock and left abandoned as a baby, Tom is raised by Squire Allworthy (George Devine). As a young lad, Tom encounters many flings with multiple women. But he always finds himself coming back around to his one true attraction, the fetching Sophie Western (Susannah York).
Sophie’s father, the constantly drunk Squire Western (Hugh Griffith), doesn’t mind Tom personally. But due to his bastard and low class status, doesn’t want him marrying Sophie. In addition to fighting for Sophie’s affection, Tom also has to deal with the consequences of his sexcapades with countless women and the fact that many of the townsfolk would like nothing more than to see him hanged.
Director Richardson incorporates some unique touches here. The most notable is the opening prologue, which plays out in silent film form. There’s also an epically shot deer hunting sequence that feels that feels out of nowhere and as though it belongs in Lawrence of Arabia, yet remains viscerally riveting. And then there’s an infamous dinner scene that sees Tom and his female dinner guest consuming food in a very suggestive manner that I’m surprised made it passed the censors.
Those elements I just mentioned are what makes Tom Jones special. It’s a film where you really don’t know what you’re going to get. And a film that toys with expectations, especially within a traditional costume drama, is always going to get high marks in my book.
Criterion has provided two versions of the film for this double disc Blu-ray release, both of which have been given a tremendous 4K restoration. In addition to the theatrical version, we are also provided the remastered Director’s Cut made in 1989, which is trimmed by seven minutes. The latter of the two fares far much better in terms of its video presentation, as the picture appears more fully detailed and color appears much livelier. Transitions may look a bit odd, but that’s mainly due to the film’s original camera negative being incomplete, and having multiple interpositives and internegatives to make up for it. In the end, the two versions to make for an interesting compare and contrast viewing.
Both versions come with different audio mixes. The theatrical is equipped with a PCM Mono mix, while the Director’s Cut has a PCM Stereo mix. While both versions are most impressive, it is once again the Director’s Cut that comes out on top, as the stereo mix provides a better, more fully amplified piece of sound. The Oscar winning score by John Addison especially sounds more engaging!
A terrific lineup of supplements find themselves all across this two disc Blu-ray from Criterion. On Disc One, which includes the Director’s Cut, there is a lengthy interview with cinematographer Walter Lassally, who supervised the transfer. We also get an interview with film scholar Duncan Petrie on the importance of the film, as well as an interview segment with film editor Robert Lambert about the revised Director’s Cut.
On Disc Two, which features the Theatrical Version, there is a segment from a 1982 episode of “The Dick Cavett Show” featuring Albert Finney, in addition to an interview with actress Vanessa Redgrave (who was married to director Tony Richardson) and an illustrated audio interview piece with composer John Addison about the score to the film. Lastly, there is an insert featuring an essay by film scholar Neil Sinyard.
The Oscar winning Tom Jones is an effortlessly engaging and often funny costume drama/satire that is littered with more surprises than you’d expect. Criterion has once again issued a marvelous Blu-ray release that is definitely worthy of checking out!