Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 18
Tom Jones October 7, 1963
Tom Jones opens

When United Artists opened Tony Richardson’s adaptation of the Henry Fielding novel Tom Jones in the autumn of 1963, they knew it was a hit. Their challenge was to convince Americans of that fact. The 18th century comic novel of a bastard trying to make his way in the world was barely known to most Americans. Nor were its stars, newcomers Albert Finney and Susannah York. And the director had a reputation that didn’t necessarily lead to better box office. In Britain, Richardson and his collaborator, the playwright and screenwriter John Osborne, had established themselves by making dark films about oppressed working-class characters. Films like Look Back in Anger (1958), A Taste of Honey (1961), and The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (1962) had defined a new wave of British cinema. But Tom Jones went in a whole new direction. Filled with bawdy adventures and cinematic high-jinx, the film proved a box office smash––even if the critics didn’t all love it. Noting the film’s debt to the French New Wave, The Sunday Telegraph sneered, “Richardson is a director who assimilates other men’s styles as easily as a schoolboy catches measles.” In New York, however, critics loved the film. The New York Times singled out the “brilliant new star Albert Finney,” and the New York Herald Tribune’s Judith Crist called it “one of the most delightful movies of recent years.” But rather than capitalize on its urban success, UA allowed all this attention to simmer, waiting until January before opening in other cities. After the picture won four Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director) in the spring of 1964, UA took the picture wide, and pushed the film’s sexy fun, with a poster featuring a nearly bare-chested Albert Finney surrounded by a lusty wenches.


More Flashbacks
Dec. 18, 1958
Boris Karloff's nephews found murdered

On December 18, 1958, Boris Karloff was struck by a personal tragedy more horrible than any event depicted in one of his movies when his two great-nephews were discovered with their throats slit.

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December 18, 1966
Antonioni’s Blowup Defines Cool

In New York, crowds of hip cinephiles lined up to see Michelangelo Antonioni’s first English-language film Blowup. The Italian director had already risen to the top of everyone’s must-see list with movies like L'avventura and L’eclisse. But in Blowup, Antonioni took hipness to a whole new level. The script, based on a short story by Argentinean writer Julio Cortázar (who gets a walk on role in the film as a homeless man), involves a callous fashion photographer (David Hemmings) who believes he may have photographed a murder by accident, but finds he can’t prove it one way or other. While Blowup’s existential murder mystery was indeed compelling, it was its backdrop of swinging mod London that captured the most attention. Many felt the main character was modeled on the real-life jet-setting photographer David Bailey, and actual models Jane Birkin and Veruschka wander in and out the film’s world. At the party scene, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page of The Yardbirds play on stage (as themselves), and local personalities like Michael Palin (later of Monty Python) pop up in the crowd. The whole mishmash captured the London scene like nothing else had. Andrew Sarris called the movie "a mod masterpiece.” Playboy’s Arthur Knight went further by suggesting that in the future Blowup will be as “as important and germinal a film as Citizen Kane, Open City and Hiroshima, Mon Amour – perhaps even more so."

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