A 4K Criterion Bluray of Tony Richardson‘s Tom Jones (’63) will pop on 2.27.18. A rompy, infectious, occasionally bawdy 18th Century comedy-adventure, it was one of the first critically respected films to break the fourth wall. Or was it the first? To audiences in JFK’s America it was really quite the amusing stunner when Albert Finney interrupted a conversation with some 18th Century character to glance at Richardson’s lens and offer a side quip or two.
Full of rude energy and goaded by the spirit of the British New Wave, Tom Jones also used jumpy handheld photography, freeze frames, whimsical narration and, as I recall, at least one instance of speeded-up photography. It felt like a prank, a lark, a mad bomb, and it completely jettisoned the steady-as-she-goes, well-regulated tone of mainstream cinema that was par for the course back then. On 4.13.64 it won the 1963 Best Picture Oscar along with Oscars or Best Director (Richardson), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score.
A 2014 Backstage piece listed 14 films that broke the fourth wall (Annie Hall, Funny Games, Fight Club, Amelie, High Fidelity, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, etc.) but didn’t mention Richardson’s film…weird.