Tom Jones (1963) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Not every great film has held up well. This one seems woefully dated. 

Tom Jones is sometimes referred to as the first English novel, and captures the unique flavor of 18th century life and language. The film did a reasonable job at creating a comprehensible presentation of the bawdy, picaresque, wildly coincidental plot. It was awarded the Best Picture Oscar that year, although it was a controversial choice in an era when Hollywood seemed to be having an Anglophile phase. 

Tom Jones, for example, received three of the five nominations for best supporting actress. The other two were an Austrian and another Brit! (The Austrian lady, Lilia Skala, fled the Nazis in the 30's, so she could be considered an American in a way. At the time of her nomination, she was working for $1.50 per hour in New York, in a non-industry position, and could not afford to attend on Oscar night, until United Artists found out and paid her way.)

Strangely enough, Tom Jones indirectly thrust the first Best Actor trophy in the hands of a black actor. The anti-foreign sentiments led to Sydney Poitier's Oscar.  The only American nominees were Poitier and Paul Newman, and Newman stated publicly that he wasn't even going to the ceremony, and that Poitier should get it!

The America Firsters, like Hedda Hopper, wanted to know why we couldn't honor good old American films and not these British upstarts, and strongly pushed Poitier and other Americans over the Tom Jones crowd. Their criticism was not just patriotic, but "moral" as well. They considered Tom Jones to be a degenerate film which promoted promiscuity and marketed cleavage.

Hopper was right, in a way, for all the wrong reasons. There were plenty of films better than Tom Jones that year but, as usual, the academy was unable to see them. Certainly there was some truth to the suggestion that Tom Jones was a lame winner (7.4 at IMDb), but the academy, as usual, missed the film which has help up the best over time. The Great Escape wasn't even nominated, but Cleopatra was! Here's the 1963 rundown, ranked according to the current IMDb rating. (Best Picture nominees highlighted) 


none, although there is plenty of cleavage
The Great Escape 8.2
8 1/2 8.0
Charade 8.0
Hud 8.0
The Birds 7.8
America, America 7.7
The Haunting 7.6
Lilies of the Field 7.5
Tom Jones 7.4
From Russia With Love 7.2
Lord of the Flies 7.2
The Pink Panther 7.2
McLintock! 7.2
How the West Was Won 6.9
Cleopatra 6.4

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen letterboxed, 1.66:1

  • no major features

Tom Jones was fresh at the time, but it inaugurated a certain style of filmmaking 

- the bedroom and countryside romps in speeded-up motion, accompanied by harpsichord music

 - the characters looking in the camera and mugging for the audience

 - the narration

That style has been copied so often in the intervening years, that it seems like a cliché when watched today. It's like watching an unfunny episode of Benny Hill. 

TRIVIA: John Kennedy watched Tom Jones on Nov 17, 1963. It was the last film he ever saw. He was assassinated five days later.

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.4, 
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Perhaps it was once higher, but it's nearly unwatchable today, except for lovers of the 18th century.

Return to the Movie House home page