Friday, December 7, 2007

TOM JONES (United Artists 1963) MGM Home Video

Based on Henry Fielding’s classic novel, director Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones (1963) is a raucous, uninhibited tongue-in-cheek recanting of that scoundrel’s many sexual escapades with the ladies. The film breaks just about every cinematic tradition known to the ‘historical’ epic – its characters frequently making hilarious asides to the audience while treating the subject material as though it were a contemporary comedy of errors or sheer farce.

The tale begins with B&W silent-movie footage of young Tom’s origins. Squire Allworthy (George Devine) returns home to discover an infant in his bed. Believing it to be the illegitimate son of his two servants, the Squire banishes them and decides to raise the child as his own. From here, the film leaps into color and sound with Tom (Albert Finney) living a life of privilege. Handsome and wily, Tom is the chamber maid’s delight. However, also being a bastard he cannot hope to wed his one true love, the fair Sophy Western (Susannah York).

Sophy’s guardian Aunt – Miss Western (Edith Evans) and father, Squire Western (Hugh Griffith) have arranged a marriage for Sophy to Mr. Blifil (David Warner), the wealthy heir of Western’s widowed sister, Bridget (Rachel Kempson). On her deathbed, Bridget writes a letter revealing the origins of Tom’s birth – a letter intended for Western’s eyes only, but intercepted by Blifil and his two tutors; Mr. Thwackum (Peter Bull) and Mr. Square (John Moffatt). Thereafter, this ill-mannered trio set about to denounce Tom as a villain.

Sympathetic to Tom’s plight, Allworthy give him a meager allowance and sends him forth into the world to seek his fortune. But the road to self-discovery is paved with spurious characters. Tom is beaten up, has his money stolen, and is falsely accused of philandering with a married woman, before proving both his heroism and nobility to Mrs. Waters (Joyce Redman). Meanwhile, to escape her marriage to Blifil, Sophy runs away from home. Both she and Tom arrive in London separately – unaware that the other is in town.

Tom falls prey to Lady Bellaston (Joan Greenwood), an unscrupulous heiress who eventually contributes to Tom being accused of robbery and attempted murder. He is saved from the hangman’s noose by Squire Western who has at last discovered Bridget’s letter and is able to set the record straight about Tom’s birthright.

Essentially a drawing room comedy, John Osbourne’s screenplay discards most every convention of the novel and of the period in favor of a ‘screwball comedy’ approach that affords each and every one of the characters moments of hilarious fallibility. Richardson’s direction moves quickly through the plot points, almost with racing precision, taking nothing too seriously. In retrospect, the film is a perfect time capsule for that 1960’s ‘let it all hang out’ mentality.

MGM’s DVD is one of the most grossly undernourished transfers I have ever seen. Not only is this disc mastered from a poorly contrasted print rather than the original camera negative, but there are excessive amounts of age related artifacts, edge enhancement and pixelization. Color fidelity is so weak and muted that at times even the color footage appears to be teetering dangerously close to a ruddy monochromatic palette. Flesh tones are orange. Greens are a dull muddy brown. There is virtually nothing to recommend the visual presentation of this movie. For shame! The audio is mono and quite strident. There are NO extras!

FILM RATING (out of 5 – 5 being the best)4

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