It’s been a long wait for Albert Finney’s film follow-up to “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.” And though “Tom Jones” is a period piece and very different it has the same lustiness and boisterous content with which to project the star. It should breeze its way cheerfully through the boxoffice figures. It has sex, Eastmancolor, some prime performers and plenty of action. Tony Richardson has directed John Osborne’s screenplay with verve, though, occasionally, he falls back on camera tricks and and editing which are disconcerting.
Based on Henry Fielding’s enduring novel, story is set in Somerset, a West Country lush county, and in London during the 18th Century. Hero is Tom Jones (Albert Finney), born in suspicious circumstances, with a maidservant dismissed because she is suspected of being his unwed mother. He is brought up by Squire Aliworthy (George Devine) and leads a rollicking life in which women play a prominent part before he finally escapes the gallows after a frame-up. He finds a presumably happy ending in the arms of a neighboring daughter, Sophie, played in rather over-genteel style by Susannah York.
Ramifications of the plot, which enables Finney to indulge in considerable sexual activity with a variety of delectable dames, are too complicated to need discussion. But the somewhat sprawling, bawdy and vivid screenplay of Osborne’s provides some meaty acting opportunities and the thesps grasp their chances with vigorous zest.
Finney is big league. He slips through his adventures with an ebullient gusto that keeps the over-long film on its toes for most of the time. Hugh Griffith and Edith Evans as Squire Western and his sister ham disarmingly. Miss Evans has some of the choicer cameos in the film. Joan Greenwood, George Devine and Wilfrid Lawson are others who get top credits for their work. Angela Baddeley, Rosalind Knight, Rachel Kampson, Jack MacGowran, Freda Jackson and Joyce Redman are others and rate benevolent nods. David Tomlinson with a brief but effective comedy appearance in a guest role as ani aristocratic heel, and Diana Cilanto have limited roles but nevertheless prove that it makes sense to bring stars with knowhow to do brief jobs.
Eastmancolor captures some good location and period stuff, lensed well by Walter Lassally, particularly in the Newgate Prison sequence as well as a fox hunting episode.
Director Richardson has occasionally pressed his luck with some over-deliberate arty camera bits. The music of John Addison is a trifle obtrusive and lacking in period style. However, “Tom Jones” measures up as a genial energetic comedy, with an added bonus of Michael MacLiammoir putting over occasional narration with his usual smooth wit and perception.