If I'm in the mood for a bawdy tale of Ye Olden Days, I know where to go: the 1983 version of Fanny Hill. While the movie itself was a lame piece that offered no fun or drama, it did present one significant asset: the often-unclad - and insanely beautiful - Lisa Raines. Oh my - what a gorgeous woman! Her lovely visage made the whole affair worthwhile.
Unfortunately, 1963's Tom Jones offered no similar pleasures, mainly because it was made 20 years earlier when nudity wasn't as acceptable. As such, it came across like Fanny Hill without the wonderful skin; it was a complete bore and a silly film that did nothing other than tire me.
How in the world this tripe won an Academy Award for Best Picture is a mystery to me. How it got nominated for Best Picture is a mystery to me. How it got made is a mystery to me. I guess it was the Sixties; who can explain half of the odd things that happened that decade?
To me, TJ seems to be stuck as a product of its times. As with 1959’s ...And God Created Woman, this is a film that lacks much impact outside of the era in which it was made. I'm sure that in 1963, something like TJ may have seemed like a breath of fresh air, a respite from the repression that marked society in the Fifties. The film was able to be "naughty" but still be seen in respectable circles, which I'd assume let viewers have their cake and eat it too.
While all of this may have been terribly stimulating back then, it doesn't make the movie watchable today, and I indeed found TJ to be an unmitigated bore. Essentially it tells of the life and loves of hunky Tom (Albert Finney), a handsome young man of suspicious birth who captures the hearts and beds of pretty much every babe he meets, all while he continues to pine for his "true love", Sophie Western (Susannah York). There's little plot of which to speak; essentially the film comes off as a series of sketches that have been welded together in a vaguely coherent manner.
All that would be fine if the material itself were presented in a more entertaining way, but TJ strikes me as little more than an episode of Benny Hill with better production values and a more attractive protagonist. What anyone sees in the film appears mysterious to me. The "bawdy" scenes lack any sense of eroticism or lewd allure, and the comedy falls completely flat. The characters are nothing more than silly and uncompelling caricatures. Finney adds a lot of gusto to his portrayal of Tom but does little else. A "bawdy comedy" with no sex appeal or humor is what I call a "disaster".
I've seen less interesting films than Tom Jones, but not many with such a pedigree. I've seen all of the Best Picture winners from the Sixties, and though the decade offered some other clunkers - A Man For All Seasons and Oliver! stand as two other weak Oscar victors - Tom Jones takes the cake. I thought it was easily the worst BP champion in the Sixties, and is one of the poorest of all time.
Tom Jones appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This new DVD from MGM marks the film’s second release in the format, and while the picture still showed some significant concerns, it provided a much-improved presentation over the one found on the old HBO edition.
Sharpness looked reasonably accurate for the most part, but this aspect of the image varied. Many shots seemed to be nicely crisp and detailed, but quite a few came across as somewhat fuzzy. There appeared to be no true rhyme or reason to this, though wider images tended to display the most consistent softness. It wasn’t inevitable that wide shots would be hazy and that close-ups would look well-defined, as the movie occasionally reversed those circumstances, but as a whole, that was the rule by which the film abided.
Moiré effects and jagged edges presented very few concerns during the movie, but print flaws were a different issue. Although this DVD offered a much cleaner image than the one seen on the old release, it still featured quite a few problems. A variety of speckles and grit showed up throughout the film, and some light grain appeared as well. Occasional examples of nicks and small blotches popped up from time to time, but as a whole, it was the speckles and grit that caused the most noticeable defects.
This new DVD also improved the colors of the old one, though the hues still looked rather drab. I detected no bright or bold tones, and the movie usually seemed flat and bland. However, this paleness was the only issue, as the purplish skin tones I saw in the original DVD did not reappear here. Colors looked accurate though at the soft and wan end of the spectrum. At best, hues seemed decent, as during the costume ball sequence; the tones remained subdued, but they showed a little more life at that time.
Black levels seemed to be reasonably deep and rich, though they could also come across as pale and faded at times. Shadow detail continued to demonstrate some of the concerns seen during the first DVD, but these concerns also improved. Many of the problems seemed to relate to the original photography, as TJ utilized some “day for night” photography. Those shots looked exceedingly dark and thick, but other low-light scenes caused fewer concerns. Interiors seemed to be somewhat heavy, but they lacked the excessive opacity seen during the DFN exteriors. Ultimately, Tom Jones remained a flawed image, but this new DVD made the picture seem much more respectable and watchable.
Additional improvements could be found in the film’s monaural soundtrack. The MGM DVD reverted to the movie’s original mix, whereas the HBO disc used a Dolby Surround track that I believe was created for a 1989 reissue of TJ that I’ll discuss later in the review.
The Dolby Surround track of the old DVD opened up the soundfield, but it did so in an artificial and somewhat distracting manner. As such, I prefer the monaural original, though this was mainly because the audio quality showed advancement. Granted, the mono mix displayed only modest progress, as it still seemed to be mediocre at best.
The main problem with the soundtrack stemmed from the fact it offered virtually no dynamic range. Midrange dominated the mix, and this gave the entire production a rather flat tone. Dialogue was drab and thin, but the lines seemed to be adequately intelligible, and they lacked any signs of edginess. Some speech was poorly looped, however, and this can result in some scenes that appeared rather artificial.
Effects were similarly bland and dull, but they showed no distortion, and they represented the elements with acceptably accuracy. Music contained the best opportunities for range, especially via some martial drumming. Those sequences almost offered a little depth and low-end, but overall, the score stayed pretty inert. Ultimately, the soundtrack of Tom Jones was adequate for its age, but it seemed quite dreary and dry.
Lastly, Tom Jones includes almost no extras. All we find is the movie’s theatrical trailer. However, I should note that this DVD provides a different cut of the film than the one found on the HBO disc. In 1989, director Tony Richardson apparently decided the film was too long so he edited it for reissue. The HBO DVD featured the cut version, and it lost about seven minutes of material.
Fans of Tom Jones apparently disliked this alteration, so they’ll be happy to note that the new MGM DVD offers the original 129-minute edition of the film. A sticker on the cover proclaims that the film has been “restored to its original length”, and that indeed seems to be the case.
Not that the additional footage made any difference to me. I thought that Tom Jones was a total dud, as it offered an inane experience that was free of charm or wit. The DVD provides flawed picture and sound, but these at least improved upon the terrible HBO release of the film. Fans of Tom Jones should be pleased with this DVD, as it features what appears to be the best home video presentation the movie has enjoyed, but otherwise this clunker should be left for Best Picture completists.