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Monday, September 07, 2015

Brits Put Cheek In Costumes

Tom Jones Gets the British Invasion Off To a 1963 Start

The saucy one that won Best Picture for 1963, then curdled somewhat in critical estimation (it dates, some say, or wasn't that funny to begin with). Also there's UA's negative gone pink plus loss of contrast in dark scenes; either way, Tom's no longer robust, even in HD. Could enough money salvage a once lush landscape, or more to point, would present owner MGM be willing to spend? Tom Jones is fun in a right spirit ... do revival houses ever use it? I'm curious as to how Tom would play to a modern audience. 1963 folk thought him the bawdiest delight of so-far cinema, a single-hand rout (by director Tony Richardson and writers) of long in-force censorship. I recall hot reputation the thing had, right unto NBC premiere play in later 60's, one of those for which you'd lower volume lest parents note what's on. Anyway, Tom seems to be among least-lauded "Best Pictures" of its era. Significant is fact there's not a Blu-ray available.

Nicely Subtle and Suggestive 1963 One-Sheet
US release was brilliantly handled by United Artists, result an all-time blockbuster among Brit imports. Tom Jones was celebration of lechery and rough manners, a '63 public ready for just that. Timing was obviously ideal; who knows what something like this would have done a mere season earlier, or after. Certainly imitators went down trying: Paramount's The Amorous Adventures Of Moll Flanders only managed $1.6 million in domestic rentals, which surely got them out of puffed sleeves and wigs for a while. Perceived "dirty" movies were hits in seemingly  unleashed 1963: Irma La Douce, also from UA, did terrific biz, but like Tom Jones, isn't talked about so much now. UK observers might have called Tom an 18th century kitchen sink movie with laughs; people talk continually with mouths full, and in fact, eating stands in for sex from which the pic discreetly cuts away, a droll narrator mocking that screen convention.

Albert Finney looks at the camera like Oliver Hardy used to, a surprise conceit that delighted 60's audiences who'd not witnessed such cheek for years. Ugliness and cruelty of ye olden days aren't side-stepped: a hunt scene shows spurs dug into horseflesh close-up, and yes, it's sobering. Dogs and pigs are everywhere; we're made to know what a grubby era this was. Tom Jones stayed in profitable circulation for a long while ... I recall it coming back to our Starlight Drive-In on a double with Irma La Douce, the notion of paired libertines thought irresistible to parked viewership, in-car privacy lending opportunity to emulate salacious acts implied onscreen.


Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Whether it stands up or not any film with Hugh Griffith gets my attention.Shame about negative going pink. Those pennies saved cost big in the long run. Learned that long ago.I do remember that this movie was FUN in capitals. Also a huge breath of fresh air.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...

Saw it theatrically. Looking back, I probably would have preferred to be at home "hunting and pecking" an English term paper.

Maybe I should give TOM another chance. No more term papers to write.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Saw a 35mm print in 1970, thought it terrific. Crude, rude, great music score, a lot of fourth wall breaking and silent comedy techniques. Fancy period costumes with a faint barnyard stench. Haven't seen the whole thing since. Maybe it has dated, but I can think a lot of other Best Picture winners I'd be less likely to revisit.

11:50 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

Was thinking some more about this. You mention Finney doing an Oliver Hardy, but it was Joyce Redman's turn to the audience (upon learning Tom's identity) followed by a little shrug that was promoted as the biggest single laugh in the movies since Joe E. Brown's punchline in SOME LIKE HOT. Well, that's what they were saying in the sixties. Still got a huge roar when I saw it in the early seventies. Wonder how a full audience would react today.

8:33 PM  
Blogger Dr. OTR said...

I saw this in a theater in my freshman year (so would have been Fall 1989 or spring 1990). It was tremendous fun, and I even briefly tried growing out my hair into a ponytail, inspired by the film (a look that simply didn't work for, and I soon gave up). Anyway, the film was a huge hit with the college audience. I seem to remember this being an anniversary edition -- perhaps it was circulated again in 1988 for its 25th?
I saw it again on TCM a couple of years back. It does drag in a few spots, but overall is still great fun. And Susannah York looks radiant.

10:36 PM  
Blogger Tim Bell said...

I saw the re-release in 1989 and it looked OK. Richardson trimmed a few minutes, but I can't recall any specific scenes cut. I expect it was just an attempt to goose the tempo for a contemporary audience. It seemed quite fresh when I saw it on TV in the late 60's/early 70's but alas, like many comedies, it was of its time.

2:30 AM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

I saw this as a teen on the network showings back in the 60s. Thought it was great. Saw it at a retro theater in the 70s. Still thought it was great. Saw some of it on a recent airing & it didn`t hold up, alas.

8:20 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon offers some thoughts and memories re "Tom Jones" (Part One):

But I just wanted to say, John, that I enjoyed your nice acknowledgement of the anniversary (or, whatever was the occasion!) of "Tom Jones". I DO, but vaguely, remember some of the hubbub about the movie when it was new, but I think it was viewed to be more 'ribald' (great word, that) than 'obscene'. This, you realize, NOT a comment on any impression your remarks gave. I think only the really dug-in Puritans (and there are still plenty in this country) objected to this picture, but as answer to this I have the reply of your obviously real reproduction of the original (domestic US?) poster with its big, "tells the story" X on it! So, I could be very wrong!

I love this movie. I think it has it all. It's very sexy, very libertine, very "so sue me!" in its other-century, and/or "continental" attitude toward sex. Listen, I think it'd be great if it were ONLY possible to liberate sex from responsibility, but as a reliable (sometimes!) means of producing offspring, it gets a little complicated, that. Even birth control in all its intriguing forms has never completely eliminated the chance that your fun may come with a price tag that you'll have to put through college one day, etc, etc. But, that's what pictures and stories like "Tom Jones" are for, in a way---to make us willfully forget all that depressing stuff! And sure, my tongue is where it belongs: in cheek. But, is a wrecker of men, sometimes; there is no question of it. Again, however, as in a dance, I rebound to my appreciation of "Tom Jones" for deliberately celebrating the exhilarating aspects and letting the others go by the wayside. Hey, it's only one, little movie! Give us a break, bluenoses!

5:50 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two from Craig Reardon:

Also think the score by John Addison is ravishing and also light and witty. Certainly his Oscar win set him up for quite a number of plum assignments subsequently, including replacing the great Bernard Herrmann (after he'd written a score!) on "Torn Curtain". And, that's a classic case of comparing apples and oranges, when you listen to Herrmann's since-re-recorded score and compare it to Addison's approach. I, a lifetime Herrmann fan, will speak heresy and say I think they're both good, both valid. I remember seeing Mr. Addison, Himself pull in at the main gate at Universal on some occasion when I was near enough to observe, around Christmas time, and he pulled out a nice, shiny package and handed it to the famous 'Scotty', the keeper of the main gate at Universal for many years. (And yes, 'Scottie' was Scottish and had the accent to prove it. I guess he was Ken Hollywood's rival for most famous studio gatekeeper; Hollywood, of course, so felicitously-named, was at MGM, and by gum he was STILL at MGM when I worked there on "Poltergeist" in 1981!)

I had the pleasure of seeing David Warner perform the role of The Devil in a live radio broadcast of Norman Corwin's wonderful verse play, "The Plot to Overthrow Christmas", which originated from the assembly room in the Thousand Oaks Library (yes, in Thousand Oaks!---CA) in 1992, I believe it was, around the holidays. And, what a cast Peggy Webber had assembled! It included Norman Lloyd (still with us at 100!), Richard Crenna, Roddy MacDowell, Sean McClory (Webber's husband, BTW), Parley Baer, Kathleen Freeman, Stan Freberg, Samantha Eggar, William Windom, and Marvin Kaplan! And---not to forget the great Norman, himself...Corwin, I mean!...who directed it as he had first directed it live on the air from CBS in NYC in 1938. Ray Bradbury attended, just to enjoy it, like the rest of us. "We're all here because we love Norman Corwin! ", said Ms. Webber. That's for sure. It was my great honor to be a personal friend of Norman from 1976 to the end of his long (101!) life, in 2011. One of the most intelligent, witty and honorable men I've ever known.

With apologies for the digressions, I also love Greenbriar Picture Shows!

5:51 AM  

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