Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Tom Jones

(UK, 1963)

DIRECTED by Tony Richardson
PRODUCED by Michael Balcon, Michael Holden, Oscar Lewenstein & Tony Richardson
SCREENPLAY by John Osborne
BASED ON A NOVEL by Henry Fielding
ORIGINAL MUSIC by John Addison
CINEMATOGRAPHY by Walter Lassally

If you tortured me, if you tied me to a chair and showed me videos of George W. Bush for three days straight, if you forced me to choose my favorite film of all time … it would probably be Tom Jones.

John Foreman once told me that movie magic consists of moments. The one he used to illustrate it was from The Man Who Would Be King, which he produced. They are exploring Alexander the Great’s treasure room and Sean Connery holds up a ruby the size of a baseball. “Look at the size of that ruby!” he whispers. Michael Caine holds up one the size of a softball. “Here’s a bigger one.” John felt that movies should do that: show you something wonderful, and then top it.

I feel movies are about magical sequences. If a movie has one magical sequence that you remember forever, it’s a damn good movie. Tom Jones has a dozen. The one everybody remembers is the eating/seduction scene in the inn at Upton. But Tom Jones begins with a magical sequence, right out of the box. In about two minutes Tony Richardson manages to summarize about 100 pages of the novel (which I’ve read, and it’s fairly heavy going) and make me laugh half a dozen times. Then there is the women fighting in the church graveyard, the race to save Tom at Tyburn, Tom wooing Sophie with his arm in a sling without a word being spoken, the sword fight, Squire Western pigging out at the table, the pursuit of the escaped thrush … many others.

My personal favorite is the hunt. Squire Western is grabbing every woman present, everyone is pouring ale down their gullets. The dogs are released, we follow in a helicopter, then down, then in among the riders. The camera puts you in so close to the dogs that you want to wipe off the slobber. Sedate Messrs. Thwackum and Square are in the thick of it, riding hard. The whole community is out, risking their lives, tearing up the countryside. At the end Squire Western holds up the bloody head of a deer, savage and pleased as a caveman. It is all very politically incorrect, I know; I’d never be able to participate in a bloodfest like that … but the movie makes me want to. These people devour life, they live hard, they eat up every moment.

Richardson uses every trick in the book, like Richard Lester, including asides to the audience. The movie feels real. It is dirty, sometimes dark, sometimes beautiful. Sophie has smudges of mud on her and doesn’t mind it. The whole thing is narrated rather primly, and hilariously, asking the audience to make allowances for our incorrigible hero … then follows him lasciviously through all his amorous and disreputable adventures. And in the end, courage is rewarded, evil punished, and true love triumphs.

The music is simply perfect. Usually you don’t want to be too aware of movie music, but this stuff is so catchy and so historically appropriate you might figure it was written by Handel (that newfangled fellow that Squire Western hates), and it enhances every scene. The harpsichord is the featured instrument, and it’s played like a 17th-century banjo; just lots of fun. John Addison won an Oscar for it.

The movie ends with these words, which it would be well to remember when you’re wasting time:

Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own.
He who, secure within, may say:
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today!