Right away, it’s established that this is going to be a quirky movie. The opening scene works like a silent film, with the actors being extra expressive and the all important dialogue (“aaaah!”) cut in to read. A plucky piano provides a quick and light accompaniment as we watch Squire Western discover an illegitimate baby and the banish the young mother and presumed father. What otherwise would have been a dark, dramatic scene has been turned into something quick and quirky. It’s only the beginning of life for Tom Jones.
Cut to approximately twenty years later and we see that Tom (Albert Finney) is quite the ladies man. He’s been adopted by the Squire (Hugh Griffith) and raised to be a gentleman along side his nephew, Blifil (David Warner). Tom is constantly warned to stay discreet, pious and sober, but cannot resist the fun he has with women. Though he plays the field, his heart goes only to Sophie (Susannah York). When Tom is caught with Molly (Diane Cilento), the huntsman’s daughter and the town slut, he is banished by the Squire. As Tom ventures to London, Sophie runs away to avoid marrying Blifil and to find Tom just in time to save him from serious trouble.
The narrator is hilarious. Voiced by Micheal MacLimmoir, he provides the perfect background tone for 17th century English countryside with just a hint of sarcasm. I would imagine this voice wearing a powdered wig slightly askew as he tells us, “To those who find our hero’s behavior startling, the answer is simple: Tom had always thought that any woman was better than none.”
One very interesting scene is the hunt. In other films or books, the hunt has always seemed so elegant with high class people enjoying a bit of the outdoors. Here, we see it’s just dirty old Englishmen getting liquored up and then drunkenly riding their horses across the countryside chasing a poor beautiful little deer. They yell and blow their horns and dig their spurs into the horses with dogs barking all around. At the end we get a savage last image of the poor deer, but that’s what these gentlemen who’ve learned to be religious and virtuous do for fun.
Tom Jones is such a delight, there are chases, sword fights, a masquerade, romance and some hilarious situations that I don’t want to give away. I highly recommend it. The 17th century setting against the modern camera work, stark realism and unconventional comedy works amazingly well. Finney and York have wonderful chemistry and MacLimmoir’s voice presiding over everything is the perfect topping. If you want a film that can bring you some very unexpected laughs, Tom Jones is it.
“Madam, I despise your politics as much as I do a fart.”