"a resplendent period treat enveloped with ample, lilting, euphonious selections, both aurally and visually."
British New Wave practitioner Tony Richardson’s rumbustious Oscar BEST PICTURE champ has been degraded to something of a damp squib half an century later since its triumph is deemed as“unworthy” by general opinion, in IMDB it holds a 6.7/10, quite a nadir for a redoubtable title-holder.
But if a viewer gives it a try with this scrumptiously restored Blu-Ray edition (retrofitted with Dolby Stereo), the consensus is, at the very least, a resplendent period treat enveloped with ample, lilting, euphonious selections to please one’s ears and a carefree comedy-of-errors as much beholden to a unique faux-naïf whiff of British nobility as to its often vacuous, non-sensical happenings, which are transmuted from Henry Fielding’s 18th century source novel THE HISTORY OF TOM JONES, A FOUNDLING.
Our young hero Tom Jones (Finney), whose parentage is the film’s best kept secret, is a foundling adopted by Squire Allworthy (Devine), in due time he wins the heart of the young lady Sophie Western (York) with his chivalry, but also has no qualms about copping off with a luscious Molly Seagrim (Cilento), the daughter of a local peasant, and even gallantly defends her names on the back of his black horse, an atypical knight-in-the-shining-armor, the truth is, Tom is a magnetized draw toward the opposite site, which the film flogs to death through the mouths of his many a female admirer, but as fresh-faced as he is, Finney’s dreamboat quotient is not potent enough, his appearance often betrays a tinge of sophistication which will mature tangibly with time, ergo, it becomes slightly vexing in this nominal “female gaze” outlook that tapers into frivolity, once Tom sets his foot on his own to explore the world.
On the one hand, it looks bizarre now, that the film holds an unmatched record by securing three Oscar nominations in BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS category (with no win though), granted that the film does present a menagerie of vivacious, delicious and colorful personages: a transmogrified Cilento is a brazen sight to behold; Dame Edith Evans is right on the nose as Sophie’s spinster aunt, a moralistic do-gooder cannot be bothered even by a pistol-wielding footpad; Joyce Redman makes splashes with her infamous duet with Finney in their food partaking flirtation as Mrs. Waters, and is spared with an incestuous scandal in the final reveal, apart from those aforementioned three Oscar-nominated ladies, a Golden Globe-nominatedJoan Greenwood doesn't cede her reign to anyone else as the amoral Lady Bellaston, but in the event, every character, including the bibulous luvvie Hugh Griffith as Sophie’s fatuous father, David Warner’s vicious turn in his screen debut and a scene-stealing David Tomlinson as Lord Fellamar who is blatantly ready to ravish his object of desire, even the two leads Tom and Sophie, is wanting of a magic potion which would lend them some substance other than a caricature or a skin-deep nonentity.
On the other hand, Richardson maxes out his aptitude to marshal this picture into a resounding spectacle other than the usual suspect of a knockabout ruckus, from its beguilingsilent skit opening to the sweeping grandness of a deer hunting hoopla, and to the riveting sword fights, to say nothing of its opulent decorations and garments, one must hand it to him for his audacity and faculty in burnishing this episodic shaggy-dog story as integral as it could be, notwithstanding the shark-jumping ending is visibly rushed, and that final illegitimate-status-to-noble-extraction volte-face is such a conformable device rightfully harking back to the novel’s antediluvian provenance.
referential film: Tony Richardson’s LOOK BACK IN ANGER (1959, 6.9/10).