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Tom Jones

Since the early 60’s women have been throwing their panties at Welsh crooner Tom Jones. With hits like "It’s Not Unusual," "She’s a Lady," "What’s New Pussycat," and his really tight leather pants, the chicks just dig this guy. You might be surprised to learn that not only did Tom Jones win the Grammy for best new artist in 1965, Tom Jones also won the Oscar for best picture in 1963. Of course the Oscar winner had absolutely nothing to do with the Grammy winner Tom Jones, but oh well.

Actually, it kinda does. Albert Finney is better known to today’s audiences for having played Ed in Erin Brockovich, the old Ed in Big Fish, and Leo (not Ed? I feel cheated) in Miller’s Crossing. But Finney got his big break when he was 26, playing the title role in the movie based on the 1749 novel by Henry Fielding. Tom is found in the house of Squire Allworthy as an infant, and since Allworthy has no children, he raises Tom. When Tom grows up he becomes a man-slut, jumping in bed with basically anything with a pair of breasts. Eventually he falls in love with a woman named Sophie, who is a bit upset about Tom sleeping around, but still seems to have a thing for him. Her father though wants to marry her off to rich, arrogant jerk Blifil, who is meant to be Allworthy’s heir. They all traipse off to London, where Tom sleeps with a few more women, meets the man who was fired from Allworthy’s house because everyone thought he was Tom’s father, and plots to win the heart of Sophie. Blifil also wants Sophie and uses his money to frame Tom for robbery, but as Tom is about to be hanged, the truth comes out that Tom’s actual father was a relative of Allworthy, and as such, Tom is Allworthy’s real heir. Upon learning this, Sophie’s father rescues him, and sends him to Sophie and the two live happily ever after.

The beginning of this movie is basically a silent movie. The discovery of the infant Tom is played out with only the harpsichord soundtrack, and every line of dialogue is printed on title cards, just as it was before the talkies. Certainly an interesting approach, and a tribute to an earlier 1917 version. It does work too. It gives us the back story that we need for the ending to make sense, but it sends a bit of a signal that the real action of the story doesn’t begin until Tom grows up and starts jumping into bed with every woman he meets.

The movie has a feel of movies from the later 60’s. It is similar in tone and feel to movies like Easy Rider and The Graduate, yet this one came several years earlier, before the hippy movement took hold.

Another interesting aspect is the hunting scene, which uses handheld cameras, which gives the scene the feel of a documentary, as if we actually were seeing an 18th century hunting party head out.

There is one issue that I have more with the book than with the movie, and with much of British lit of the 18th and 19th centuries. Like Dickens after him, Fielding makes his protagonist affluence unknown. He is high born, but there is opposition to him marrying his true love because nobody, including him, knows that. He was raised as a commoner, lives as a commoner, and is seen as a commoner, and as such is an unfit match for a highborn woman. But in a strange coincidence at the end, our hero happens to be related to everyone else, so it turns out he has money after all. Dickens used this plot devise in almost everything he wrote except A Christmas Carol, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Dickens wanted to make Bob Cratchit Scrooge’s long lost nephew. What does this devise tell us, that if you turn out to really be poor, you shouldn’t marry anyone? I find that sentiment rather repulsive, but I suppose it was a bit more natural for an Englishman from that era.

There was really nothing special in the other nominees from that year, although Liz Taylor’s most expensive-movie-ever-made Cleopatra should have gotten some sort of honorary award for being such a huge bust that it killed off the sword and sandal epics forever. Not nominated that year was James Bond’s debut movie, Dr. No. The spy thriller has everything, setting the tone for every spy thriller since that has tried to copy it. I am a fan of the Bond series, and Dr. No stands out as one of the best in the group. Where Tom Jones starts getting repetitive in the final reel, Dr. No keeps on moving right up until the end. It was a week field in 1963, and I have to give the nod to 007.


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