Tommy (film): Wikis


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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ken Russell
Produced by Ken Russell
Robert Stigwood
Written by Ken Russell
Pete Townshend
Starring Oliver Reed
Roger Daltrey
Elton John
Eric Clapton
John Entwistle
Tina Turner
Keith Moon
Paul Nicholas
Jack Nicholson
Music by The Who
Cinematography Dick Bush
Ronnie Taylor
Editing by Stuart Baird
Studio RSO
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) United States
19 March 1975
United Kingdom
26 March 1975[1]
Running time 111 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget US$5 million[2]
Gross revenue $20 million

Tommy is a 1975 musical film, based on The Who's 1969 rock opera album musical Tommy. It was directed by Ken Russell and featured a star-studded cast, including the band members themselves (most notably, lead singer Roger Daltrey plays the title role). Ann-Margret received a Golden Globe Award for her performance, and was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Pete Townshend was also nominated for an Oscar for his work in scoring and adapting the music for the film.

The film was shown at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival, but was not entered into the main competition.[3]



Tommy's father, Royal Air Force Group Captain Walker (Robert Powell), is away fighting in World War II. His airplane is shot down before Tommy is born. His mother, Nora Walker, receives the news while at work in a munitions factory filling bombs with ball bearings. Mrs. Walker then gives birth to a baby boy, Tommy. She believes her husband is dead for nearly six years. She meets Frank Hobbs at a holiday camp and starts a relationship with him.

However, Walker had survived the crash and returns home one night. Tommy follows him to the bedroom where Walker sees Mrs. Walker and Hobbs in each other's arms. He then sees Hobbs kill Walker by smashing a lamp on his head. (In the original album version, however, Walker confronts his wife and kills the lover.) Tommy is then told that he "didn't hear it, didn't see it" and "won't say nothing to no-one". As a result, Tommy goes into shock and ultimately becomes non-responsive, leading people to believe that he is deaf, dumb, and blind.

The film jumps ahead ten years, and Tommy, now a young man, is being taken by his mother and stepfather on various attempts to cure him, including a religious cult (centered on Marilyn Monroe from The Seven Year Itch and led by Eric Clapton as The Preacher) and the Acid Queen (Tina Turner), a prostitute dealing in LSD who sends Tommy on a wild trip that ultimately fails to awaken him. Meanwhile, his parents are somewhat negligent of Tommy, and leave him in the hands of his sadistic cousin Kevin (Paul Nicholas), who beats him, and his uncle Ernie (Keith Moon), who molests him.

Tommy's only stimulus seems to come from a long mirror that he stands and stares into. Led alone into a junkyard at night by a vision of himself, Tommy comes into contact with a device that will change his life forever. A pinball machine among the scattered scrap metal junk yard allows Tommy to rise to national prominence and fame. Tommy's pinball prowess and defeat of the local champ (Elton John) transforms him into a folk hero.

Nora and Frank take Tommy to a medical specialist (Jack Nicholson), who confirms that Tommy's problems are psychosomatic. Filled with guilt and anger, Tommy's mother throws him into the mirror he stares into, shattering it. The violent act wakes Tommy into normality once more. He uses his new awareness to try to bring enlightenment to people. He starts giving speeches and enlightening people by canvassing. Tommy's stepfather exploits him to make money, and eventually Tommy becomes a worldwide religious icon.

Tommy sets up a holiday camp of his own, one that caters to his cult; but the mob soon rebels against his strict rules and fervor. They burn down the camp, killing Tommy's mother and stepfather in the process. Tommy is left alone, but with a greater sense of self-awareness as he faces a new dawn.


The film was the first and only film to be recorded with a Quintaphonic soundtrack.

In his commentary for the 2004 DVD release of the film, Ken Russell stated that the opening and closing outdoor scenes were shot in the Borrowdale valley of the English Lake District, near his own home, the same area that he had used to double for Bavaria in his earlier film Mahler, in which Robert Powell had starred. Much of the film was shot on locations around Portsmouth, including the scene near the end of the movie featuring the giant 'pinballs', which were in fact obsolete buoys found in a British Navy yard, which were simply sprayed silver and filmed in situ. Several other segments, including part of the Bernie's Holiday Camp sequence and the concert scenes in the 'Sally Simpson' sequence were shot inside the Gaiety Theatre on South Parade Pier at Southsea in Hampshire.

On 11 June 1974 the pier caught fire and was badly damaged while the production was filming there; according to Russell, the fire started during the filming of the scene of Ann-Margret and Oliver Reed dancing together during the Bernie's Holiday Camp sequence, and smoke from the fire can in fact be seen drifting in front of the camera in several shots; Russell also used a brief exterior shot of the building fully ablaze during the scenes of the destruction of Tommy's Holiday Camp by his disillusioned followers[4][5]. The Pinball Wizard sequence was shot at the Kings Theatre in Southsea[6], others on Portsdown Hill, which overlooks Portsmouth and two local churches were also used, one in Old Portsmouth, the other St John's in Stamshaw.

The famous scene in which Ann-Margret's character hallucinates that she is cavorting in detergent foam, baked beans and chocolate reportedly took three days to shoot. According to Russell, the detergent and baked bean sequences were 'revenge' parodies of real-life TV advertisements he had directed early in his career, although the baked bean sequence also references one of the cover photos and a parody radio ad from The Who's 1966 album The Who Sell Out. Russell also recalled that Ann-Margret's husband strongly objected to the scene in which she slithers around in melted chocolate. During the filming, Ann-Margret accidentally struck her hand on the broken glass of the TV screen, causing a severe laceration, and Russell had to take her to hospital to have the wound stitched, although she was back on set the next day[7]. The film also includes a scene in which Mrs Walker watches a parodic TV advertisement for the fictional product "Rex Baked Beans"; the costumes in this segment were originally made for the lavish masked ball sequence in Richard Lester's version of The Three Musketeers, and the dress worn by the Queen in the Rex ad is that worn by Geraldine Chaplin in the earlier film[8].

Elton John initially turned down the role of the Pinball Wizard and among those considered to replace him was David Essex, who recorded a test audio version of the "Pinball Wizard" song. However, producer Robert Stigwood held out until Elton John agreed to take the part, reportedly on condition that he could keep the gigantic Dr. Martens boots he wore in the scene. Russell also recalled that Pete Townshend initially balked at Russell's wish to have The Who performing behind Elton in the sequence, and also objected to wearing the pound-note suits (which were in fact stitched together from novelty pound-note teatowels)[9].


Changes from album

The film version of Tommy differs in numerous ways from the original 1969 album. The primary change is the period, which is moved forward to the post-World War II era, while the original album takes place just after World War I. As a result the song "1921" is renamed "1951" and the opening line "got a feelin' '21 is gonna be a good year" changes to "got a feelin' '51 is gonna be a good year". The historical change allowed Russell to use more contemporary images and settings.

In the album, Group Captain Walker returns to find his wife with a new lover and murders him, but in the film this is reversed; the lover (Reed) kills Walker in front of Tommy, heightening the psychological trauma.

Unlike other filmed rock operas (such as that of Pink Floyd's The Wall) the album is never dubbed over the film; the different actors — including Nicholson and Reed, neither of whom were known for their vocal prowess — perform the songs in character instead of The Who, with the exception of Daltrey as Tommy and where Townshend sings narration in place of recitative.

Because of this, all the songs are rerecorded and the song order is shuffled around considerably; this and the addition of several new songs and links creates a more balanced structure of alternating short and long sequences. A large number of songs have new lyrics and instrumentation, and another notable feature is that many of the songs and pieces used on the film soundtrack are alternate versions or mixes from the versions on the soundtrack album.

Major differences between the 1969 and 1975 version:

  • The film opens with an a new instrumental, "Prologue 1945" (partly based on the 1969 "Overture") which accompanies the opening sequences of Captain Walker's romance and disappearance
  • "It's A Boy" is separated from "Overture" and becomes the medley "Captain Walker / "It's A Boy"; in the film this medley narrates the aftermath of Walker's disappearance, the end of the war and the birth of Tommy\
  • A new song, "Bernie's Holiday Camp", which follows "Captain Walker" / "It's A Boy", portrays Tommy's childhood and his mother's romance with Hobbs (Oliver Reed)
  • "You didn't hear it" from the 1969 version becomes the medley "1951/What About The Boy", covering the sequence that climaxes with the return of Tommy's father and his murder
  • "The Amazing Journey" (shortened to three minutes) has almost completely different lyrics, and the "guide" from the album is depicted as Tommy's murdered father
  • The running order of "Christmas" and "Eyesight To The Blind" is reversed; references to pinball are removed from Christmas and the character of The Hawker becomes The Preacher (Eric Clapton), leader of a faith-healing pop cult worshipping Marilyn Monroe. Arthur Brown is cast as the character The Priest in the film who sings a verse in the song but is not featured on the soundtrack
  • The running order of "The Acid Queen" and "Cousin Kevin" is reversed
  • "Underture" is removed but parts from it have been re-arranged as "Sparks"
  • "The Acid Queen", "Cousin Kevin" and "Fiddle About" and "Sparks", linked by three renditions of "Do You Think It's Alright?", form an extended sequence depicting Tommy's inner journey and his trials
  • A three-minute version of the "Sparks" theme (with extensive new synthesiser orchestration) precedes "Pinball Wizard". In the film it is used behind the sequence of the dazed Tommy wandering into a junkyard and discovering a pinball machine. The music on the film soundtrack is heavily edited, however, and is a noticeably different mix from the version on the soundtrack album
  • A new linking theme, "Extra Extra", narrates Tommy's rise to fame and introduces the battle with the pinball champ. It is set to the tune of "Miracle Cure"
  • "Pinball Wizard" has extra lyrics
  • A new song, "Champagne", which follows "Pinball Wizard", covers the sequence of Tommy's stardom and wealth and his parents' greed
  • "Go To The Mirror!" is shortened, not featuring the elements of "Listening To You", nor the phrase "Go to the mirror".
  • "I'm Free" is moved back, and now follows "Smash The Mirror"; it covers the lavish psychedelic sequence depicting Tommy's reawakening
  • "I'm Free" is followed by a new song, "Mother and Son", which depicts Tommy's rejection of materialism and his vision for a new faith based around pinball
  • "Sensation", featuring extra lyrics, is moved forward and covers the spread of Tommy's new religion
  • "Sensation" and "Sally Simpson" are joined by the link "Miracle Cure" (a version of the "Extra Extra" theme)
  • In "Sally Simpson", the album version mentions her father's Rolls-Royce as blue, but the movie changes the lyrics to black. (The Rolls-Royce in the film is also black)
  • In the album version of "Sally Simpson", the title character jumps on the stage and brushes Tommy's cheek, but in the movie she is kicked off the stage before she can get close to Tommy.
  • A new linking piece, "T.V. Studio", is used between "Welcome" and "Tommy's Holiday Camp"
  • The 1969 album's closing track "We're Not Going To take It" is split into two pieces, "We're Not Gonna take It" and "Listening To You" / "See Me Feel Me"; this covers the climactic film sequences of Tommy's fall from grace and his final redemption
  • The recent CD reissue of the soundtrack album opens with new version of "Overture From Tommy", which was not included in the film or on the original soundtrack LP. The various instruments on this version of "Overture" are played entirely by Pete Townshend.

Soundtrack album

Townshend also oversaw the production of a new double-LP recording that returned the music to its rock roots, and on which the unrecorded orchestral arrangements he had envisaged for the original Tommy LP were realised by the extensive use of synthesiser. The soundtrack LP also employed many leading sessions musicians including Caleb Quaye, Phil Chen and Nicky Hopkins (who also receives a "Special Thanks" in the album credits for help with the arrangements) as well as members of The Faces; Ronnie Wood and future Keith Moon replacement Kenny Jones. The song "Pinball Wizard" was a major hit when released as a single. Curiously, although the music for this song is performed by Elton John and his band, the film depicts Elton being backed by The Who (dressed in pound-note suits). Townshend performs additional synthesizer and/or guitar on all tracks. Credits to "The Who" indicate performances by Townshend, Entwistle and Moon jointly, regardless of vocalist.

Side one

  1. "Prologue - 1945" (performed by Pete Townshend and John Entwistle) – 2:55
  2. "Captain Walker/It's a Boy" (performed by Pete Townshend, Margo Newman and Vicki Brown) – 2:38
  3. "Bernie's Holiday Camp" (performed by the Who, with vocals by Oliver Reed, Ann-Margret and Alison Dowling) – 3:42
  4. "1951/What about the Boy?" (performed by Mott the Hoople, with vocals by Ann-Margret and Oliver Reed) – 2:49
  5. "Amazing Journey" (performed by Pete Townshend) – 3:19
  6. "Christmas" (performed by the Who and the vocal chorus, with lead vocals by Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed and Alison Dowling) – 3:59
  7. "Eyesight to the Blind" (performed by Eric Clapton) – 3:21

Side two

  1. "Acid Queen" (performed by Tina Turner) – 3:47
  2. "Do You Think It's Alright?" (1) (performed by Ann-Margret and Oliver Reed) – 0:57
  3. "Cousin Kevin" (performed by Paul Nicholas) – 3:07
  4. "Do You Think It's Alright?" (2) (performed by Ann-Margret and Oliver Reed) – 0:46
  5. "Fiddle About" (performed by the Who, with lead vocals by Keith Moon) – 1:40
  6. "Do You Think It's Alright?" (3) (performed by Ann-Margret and Oliver Reed) – 0:29
  7. "Sparks" (performed by the Who) – 3:07
  8. "Extra, Extra, Extra" (performed by Simon Townshend) – 0:37
  9. "Pinball Wizard" (performed by Elton John) – 5:22

Side three

  1. "Champagne" (performed by the Who, with vocals by Ann-Margret and Roger Daltrey) – 4:43
  2. "There's a Doctor" (performed by Oliver Reed and Ann-Margret) – 0:29
  3. "Go to the Mirror" (performed by Jack Nicholson, Roger Daltrey and Ann-Margret) – 3:49
  4. "Tommy, Can You Hear Me?" (performed by Ann-Margret) – 0:55
  5. "Smash the Mirror!" (performed by Ann-Margret) – 1:22
  6. "I'm Free" (performed by Roger Daltrey) – 2:36
  7. "Mother and Son" (performed by Pete Townshend, with vocals by Ann-Margret and Roger Daltrey) – 2:36
  8. "Sensation" (performed by Roger Daltrey) – 2:49 (on the LP and 8-track, 4:37 on the cassette and CD)

Side four

  1. "Miracle Cure" (performed by Simon Townshend) – 0:23
  2. "Sally Simpson" (performed by Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey) – 5:38
  3. "Welcome" (performed by Pete Townshend, with vocals performed by Roger Daltrey, Ann-Margret and Oliver Reed) – 4:15
  4. "T.V. Studio" (performed by Pete Townshend, with vocals performed by Ann-Margret and Oliver Reed) – 1:14
  5. "Tommy's Holiday Camp" (performed by Keith Moon) – 1:29
  6. "We're Not Gonna Take It!" (performed by Roger Daltrey and the vocal chorus) – 4:46
  7. "Listening to You/See Me, Feel Me" (performed by the Who and the vocal chorus, with lead vocals by Roger Daltrey) – 4:19

Sales chart performance

Year Chart Position
1975 Billboard Pop Albums 2[citation needed]
1975 UK Chart Albums 21[citation needed]


  1. ^ Tommy (1975) - Release dates
  2. ^ Tommy (1975) - Box office / business
  3. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Tommy". Retrieved 2009-05-04. 
  4. ^ Ken Russell commentary, Tommy DVD (Umbrella Entertainment, 2004]
  5. ^ Southsea South Parade Pier
  6. ^ Portsmouth - The Waterfront City
  7. ^ Ken Russell commentary, Tommy DVD (Umbrella Entertainment, 2004]
  8. ^ [IMDb - Tommy (1975) - Trivia]
  9. ^ Ken Russell commentary, Tommy DVD (Umbrella Entertainment, 2004]

External links



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