Oscar’s 90th birthday is just around the corner and to celebrate, every other day from now through March 4th, I will be taking a look at each and every film selected for his top award – the good, the bad and the sometimes not-so deserving.
Nineteen sixty-three was a troubled year for Hollywood. The institutions of Universal, Paramount, MGM and Fox were shadows of their former selves. Every studio had fallen on hard times whether in legal wranglings, changing tastes or public indifference. The future of studio films were being determined by a group of aging, stuffy old studio bosses who had lost touch with an audience that once made the movies a daily and nightly ritual.
In general, the content of American films by the early 60s was a tapestry of outdated old formulas and aging movie stars who weren’t jiving with the tastes of an audience that was hungry for something new. Nineteen Sixty-Three was a monumentally dismal year for studio films. Even films that got good reviews haven’t stood the test of time. This is especially true of the five films nominated for Best Picture, America America, Cleopatra, How the West Was Won and Lilies of the Field and Tom Jones. Having viewed all five again, none are films I am eager to spend another evening with.
The Best Picture winner was Tony Richardson’s adaptation of Henry Fielding’s ribald 1861 novel Tom Jones, about an orphaned youth (Albert Finney) who is raised by a wealthy land owner and grows up with the opportunity to wed an heiress. He has a rival for the heiress’ hand but he also has a voracious sexual appetite and most of the movie focuses on his sexual misadventures. Tom Jones has it’s admirers but I find it overlong and dated, and containing scenes that don’t have the intended impact on me that I think they were intended to have back in sixty-three. The famous fox hunt scene goes on and on and on far beyond reason, and the much-discussed scene at the dinner table between Finney and the buxom Joyce Redman, in which they chow down on food as a carnivorous symbol of their lust, is less erotic for me than just plain disgusting.
Jones’ sexual dalliances may have been tantalizing once but now seems terribly dated. At the time, Tom Jones seemed quite original with it’s frank sexual humor, it’s satirical edge, funny asides with Tom regarding us directly into the camera and other elements that became so imitated that they were shopworn by the time the decade was out. In the years that followed Tom Jones would come the sexual revolution and the breakdown of Hollywood’s production code that would allow filmmakers to display graphic content and nudity. In the wake of that revolution, Tom Jones would be kind of left behind. Its a relic, and not one ripe for nostalgia.