‘Tom Jones’ or — Appetite For Seduction?

‘Tom Jones’ (1963) is about a feckless man incapable of taking on any form of responsibility and who is so sexually attractive that every women he meets wants to immediately sleep with him. “Thank god!” I exclaimed last night, “Finally a relatable character!”

Joking aside… although I’m only kinda half joking because even though ‘Tom Jones’ isn’t a celebration of unbridled sexuality or an argument for unrestrained free-love it’s certainly a warning against hypocrisy, moralising and insincere judgementality, especially when it comes to matters of the genitalia. So Tom’s not a sexual predator or is necessarily constantly out looking for ‘it’ but he is a sexual opportunist — if it’s on a plate he’ll enthusiastically munch in. But is that worth hanging him for? We should check our beams before we start looking for motes.

Unfortunately there are other types of men in the world, men who don’t possess Tom’s passion for life and who cloak themselves in the disingenuous garb of faux respectability and, riddled with jealousy of someone living life on their own terms and having a ball as he does so, use Tom’s escapades in an attempt to destroy this untamed ruffian.

And so, accompanied by Micheál MacLiammóir’s mischievous dulcet Irish narration, we follow Tom as he is thrust out into the world to do some, well… thrusting.

What’s hugely enjoyable about ‘Tom Jones’ (and ‘Tom Jones’ is a hugely enjoyable movie) is not so much the story but the bursting, bristling energy and invention director Tony Richardson injects into practically every single scene and shot, throwing everything but the kitchen sink (there’s an unoriginal British New Wave cinema joke there for you, folks) at the screen. The result is intoxicating as rampant buggery, if that’s your kinda thing.

This is best exemplified by two of the film’s best sequences which might be the finest examples of their type I’ve seen. First is the hunt on horseback which is possibly the most dynamic, and dangerous looking, hunt sequence going. It practically explodes off the screen it’s so intense with the closest equivalent being Arwen and Frodo’s race to the Ford of Bruinen in ‘Fellowship of The Rings’ (2001) (oddly, there were a couple of specific shots that had me thinking of Peter Jackson throughout for some reason).

The second is the ‘best ever two people eating as a precursor to fucking’ scene you’ll ever witness. Good grief, it’s as filthy and funny, and arousing!, as hell and when the penny drops as to just how far Richardson and the actors are taking it all I couldn’t stop laughing.

All the performances are a joy to watch with every look, movement, word filled with the passion of living, breathing human beings riddled with life to their core. My favourite is Edith Evans as Miss Western who gets some of the films’ best lines with “Rouse yourself from this pastoral torpor!” and “more than Gothic ignorance” being just two of them. Then again, this is a movie packed with dialogue as juicy as a hot leg of mutton dripping with fat. Although after seeing David Tomlison’s surprisingly icky role in this I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to watch ‘The Love Bug’ (1968) in the same way ever again.

Yet I can also see why ‘Tom Jones’ might not click with some folk with Richardson’s directing and editing style running the risk of lapsing into the grating, gimmicky and seeming a little dated (how many fourth-wall breaks can YOU take?). The film is functioning at a furious rate of knots as it is and never lets up so if you’re not on board it could easily zoom away, leaving you watching it disappear over the horizon like a startled horse. Personally greedily I ate every second of it up and had room for more.

If you feel you need a little bit of oomph shoved up you (it’s a naughty movie so I’m certainly not going to start behaving now), a reminder that we’re all sexual creatures or maybe just how innovative and exciting British cinema could be then ‘Tom Jones’ will leave a huge smile on your face, and maybe a few other physical responses too.

In closing, I also couldn’t help comparing it to Kubrick’s ‘Barry Lyndon’ (1975) in that both films follow a young man gliding through the 18th Century whilst an ironic narrator needles our ‘hero’ regarding the fortunes in his life. The difference is ‘Tom Jones’ makes ‘Barry Lyndon’ seem utterly constipated in comparison; it makes sense Kubrick shot his film using NASA lenses because it’s so emotionally barren he might as well have been shooting the surface of the fucking Moon. ‘Tom Jones’ is firmly down on Earth with the rest of us, wallowing and reveling in the delightful and nourishing filth.

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Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.

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Colin Edwards

Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.