A bawdy, exuberant adaptation of Henry Fielding's classic 18th century novel, Tom Jones bears the enviable contradiction of being a timeless period piece. Boasting both a uniformly excellent cast and a screenplay by John Osborne that remains one of the cinema's most successful literary hatchet jobs, the film ushered in a new era for British cinema. Its unabashed commercialism (which had to be financed by United Artists after its subject matter was deemed too outré by British financiers) was key to the subsequent influx of American dollars into the British film industry, and it signaled the effective end of the darker, more politicized English Free Cinema movement. The film was a landmark for a number of other reasons, first and foremost director Tony Richardson's presentation of the subject matter. Presaging MTV-style film direction by at least three decades, Richardson directed his film with impressive speed, employing rapid cuts, a frequent breaking-down of the fourth wall, and a pace breathless enough to make audiences forget that they were watching what had been a 1,000-page novel. Notable, too, was the fact that a story set two centuries ago could ring so true with a contemporary audience. The depiction of Tom's libidinous past was marked by the sort of carefree, liberated attitude that would soon become one of the defining attributes of the film's era. Moreover, it featured one of the most memorable demonstrations of the link between food and sex ever committed to celluloid, giving new meaning to the term "human appetite." With so many lasting qualities -- to say nothing of a star-making performance by a young and dashing Albert Finney -- it is little surprise that Tom Jones has stood the test of time as one of the 20th century's most enjoyable cinematic achievements.
by Rebecca Flint Marx review