Blu-ray Review: Tom Jones (The Criterion Collection)

In Blu-Ray’s by Rebecca WrightLeave a Comment

Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones occupies an awkward space in cinema. Often sighted as being both influential and overpraised, its status as a classic, debatable. Released in 1963, did Tom Jones serve to reinvigorate British cinema of the 1960’s – or at 128 minutes is it an overlong period piece that hasn’t aged well more than fifty years after its initial release? Having viewed Criterion’s recent two-piece Blu-ray edition which includes both the original release, and the 1989 reissue in which director Tony Richardson cut roughly seven minutes, it’s likely some of both.

Based on a popular Henry Fielding novel, Tom Jones is a bawdy, romp through 18th century England. Born a bastard’s orphan, Tom Jones (Albert Finney, Skyfall) is taken in by a wealthy squire (George Devine) who decides to raise the baby as his own. Young Tom lives life to the fullest, with a combination of innocence and bravado, preferring the outdoors to the study. He falls in last with with a local slattern before losing his heart to the gorgeous, young Sophie Western (Susannah York). Unfortunately, her father disapproved of the match. Given a small cash legacy, Tom sets out to seek his fortune.

His travels are one misadventure after another. Knocked unconscious while defended his beloved Sophie, Tom is robbed of his legacy. He also finds himself in some deadly sword fights and is forced to run from a jealous Irishman who falsely accuses him of having an affair with his wife. As if that weren’t enough, Tom meets his alleged biological parents, and ends up bedding his “mother.” In a cruel twist, a case of mistaken identity has Tom in prison waiting to be hanged. However, since this is farce, you know Tom will be exonerated and the truth behind his birth will be revealed.

Much of the comedic timing seen in Tom Jones hasn’t aged well, but the frenetic editing styling, and the breaking of the fourth wall are techniques that are still (perhaps more effectively) in use today.  I would recommend Tom Jones to anyone who hasn’t seen it before. It’s worth a watch for no other reason than its top-flight cast–Albert Finney, Susannah York, David Warner, Hugh Griffith, Rachel Kempson–among others. I’m just not sure, despite winning the Oscar for Best Picture, it’s the kind of film that inspires repeated viewings.

Presented in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, Criterion’s fully restored 4K transfer is stunning. Past home releases can’t hold a candle to this one. The roiling hillsides and lush greens of the English countryside are vivid with color and texture. Blacks are inky. Definition is solid, with only a couple of instances of softness. There are no apparent print flaws, and an appropriate level of film grain.

The films LPCM monaural soundtrack serves the film well. Dialogue is clean and clear. Music lacks much range but remained clear throughout. Effects come through sufficiently, as you’d expect from a mono mix. Given its age, this is a decent mix.

English subtitles and closed captioning are included.

The following extras are available:

On the Blu-ray Disc containing the Theatrical Cut of the film:

  • 1982 Dick Cavett Show Interview with Actor Albert Finney (HD, 4:32) In this excerpt, Finney discusses his experiences working on Tom Jones.
  • Scoring Tom Jones (HD, 7:53) In this audio interview, composer John Addison discusses his music style in general, and specifics regarding his work on Tom Jones.
  • Vanessa Redgrave Interview (HD, 10:13) Married to Tony Richardson in 1963, Redgrave discusses aspects of society in ’60s, her relationship with the director, and his work.

On the Blu-ray Disc containing the Director’s Cut:

  • Interview with Cinematographer Walter Lassally (HD, 24:32) In this combination of pieces from 2004 and an interview with Peter Cowie in 2017, Lassally discusses his career with an obvious focus on working with Tony Richardson on Tom Jones.
  • The Influence of Tom Jones (HD, 22:18) Scholar Duncan Petrie discusses the history of Tony Richardson’s production company, and aspects of the film’s creation. He clearly knows a lot about the subject.
  • Re-editing Tom Jones (HD, 10:04) Editor Robert Lambert discusses the challenge of creating the “Director’s Cut” in 1989.
  • Booklet: Features an essay from film professor Neil Sinyard.

Movie title: Tom Jones (1963)

Director(s): Tony Richardson

Actor(s): Albert Finney, Susannah York , Hugh Griffith , Edith Evans , Joan Greenwood, Diane Cilento

Genre: Romance, Period, Dark Humor, Comedy, Adventure

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