Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 07
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
December 7, 1960
Village of the Damned released

In the winter of 1960, a new vision of horror came to American cinemas from Britain. The Village of the Damned tells the story of a small English village in which all the women are mysteriously pregnant.

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December 7, 1949
Tom Waits For No Man

Thomas Alan Waits was born in Pomona, California, on this day, 59 years ago. The name Tom Waits is, of course, primarily associated with music: Waits is a distinctive, gravely-voiced singer-songwriter who has made classic albums like Rain Dogs and Blue Valentine and has been a force on the American music scene since the 1970s. Waits, though, with his rasping tones and rough-hewn features is also a casting director’s dream and has been involved in film almost as long as he has in music. Bizarrely, it was Sylvester Stallone who first put him on screen in his directorial debut, Paradise Alley, as a piano player called Mumbles, though Waits subsequently drew attention from somewhat more distinguished helmers. The first of these was Francis Ford Coppola, who cast Waits in four consecutive movies (One From the Heart, The Outsiders, Rumblefish and The Cotton Club) and also had Waits score One From the Heart, for which he received an Oscar nod. His other great relationship has been with director Jim Jarmusch, who also initiated Waits into his exclusive Sons of Lee Marvin club; Jarmusch first utilized Waits in Down by Law in 1986 and has since used his musical or thespian talents in Mystery Train, Night on Earth and Coffee and Cigarettes. Appealing to auteurs with an eye for idiosyncratic, Waits has also appeared twice in Terry Gilliam and Hector Babenco productions and had memorable roles in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (opposite Lily Tomlin) and 2007’s Wristcutters: A Love Story.

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