1964 marked the return of awarding only one Golden Globe for musical or comedy. Ironically, it was a pretty good year for Hollywood musicals and comedies. Charade, Irma La Douce, It’s a Mad Mad World and Bye Bye Birdie were all in the mix. But it was a British film, Tom Jones, that not only won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy, it also won just about every award that year, including the Oscar, the National Board of Review and the New York Critics' top prize.
But don’t blame the HFPA, blame the New York Times, whose critic Bosley Crowther was so enamored of star Albert Finney and screenwriter John Osborne -then the toasts of Broadway for the play Luther, which had just opened- that he transferred that ardor to the film. 50 years later Tom Jones has got to be one of the most overrated movies of all time. Even its Academy Award-winning director Tony Richardson has disowned it. Writing in his autobiography, he confirmed, "I felt the movie to be incomplete and botched in much of its execution. I am not knocking that kind of success – everyone should have it – but whenever someone gushes to me about Tom Jones, I always cringe a little inside.”
Viewed today it grates because of its crude humor, embarrassing sexual innuendos, but most of all, as critic Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote, “because of the ugliness of the mise en scène and the crudity of the editing.” Aping the stylistic eclecticism of Truffaut and Godard during the same period, the movie is too lacking in grace and finesse to provide anything more than broad and mainly random vaudeville turns. The pre-credits prologue – supposedly done in the style of silent films but blithely introducing handheld camera movement and a zoom –is all too typical. Not even the gifted cast – Albert Finney, Susannah York, Hugh Griffith, Dame Edith Evans, Joan Greenwood, Diane Cilento and George Devine – can survive all the willful jauntiness, which is aggressively underlined by John Addison's score, which not surprisingly won an Academy Award.
Interesting footnote: American distributor Robert Lopert, who accepted the Oscar at the awards ceremony, bequeathed the award to Albert Finney, who never won an Oscar even though he was nominated five times. Finney did win three Golden Globes but only one for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy (Scrooge).