“He hears but cannot answer to your call.”
A young boy (Barry Winch) whose mother (Ann-Margret) becomes a widow during WWII grows up blind, deaf, and mute. As an adult, Tommy (Roger Daltrey) is taken by his mother and step-father (Oliver Reed) to a preacher (Eric Clapton) and an “Acid Queen” (Tina Turner) who attempt to cure him, and is also left with abusive caretakers (Paul Nicholas and Keith Moon) who fail to elicit any reaction. When Tommy becomes a pinball champion, however, he develops an enormous following, and is soon a figure of religious reverence.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Ann-Margret Films
- Jack Nicholson Films
- Ken Russell Films
- Oliver Reed Films
- Rock ‘n Roll
Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that Ken Russell’s screen adaptation of “The Who’s rock opera” album — about a “deaf, dumb, and blind English boy who is pitied, ignored, abandoned, and abused until his pinball wizardry makes him a national hero”:
— is “ambitious, flamboyant, and at times imaginative, but eventually the succession of wild, colorful, and sometimes disgusting images wears you down”. He argues that “the picture’s about 40 minutes too long”, and that “another problem is that the score by Pete Townshend (with help from John Entwhistle and Keith Moon) doesn’t compare to the best Who music.” I’m in agreement with Peary’s assessment, and find it surprising that Ann-Margret — playing Tommy’s “tormented, heavy-drinking mother” — was nominated for an Oscar (presumably due to her multiple age-portrayals and impressively high level of dramatic “commitment”).
With all that said, this film is much too creatively staged and shot not to be seen at least once — and fans will likely enjoy repeat visits.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Endlessly creative and surreal imagery, sets, and costumes
- Stellar cinematography
Once, as a dizzying cult favorite by a reknowned director.
2 thoughts on “Tommy (1975)”
The Bad Boy of British cinema strikes again with one of his best and The Who’s score is astounding. I watched this on the UK Blu-ray (BD) about a year ago and it was one of the loudest viewing experiences I’ve had. All of the performances are knockouts and the cinematography is stunning. A must-see.
A once-must, as a worthy cult item. Fans of The Who, of course, and lovers of rock music flicks and cult flicks are likely to want repeat viewings.
Like ‘Woodstock’, this is another film I don’t feel inclined to rewatch – for reasons having more to do with me than with the film. Though ‘Tommy’ is not nearly as long as any version of ‘Woodstock’, I’ve seen it enough times to have had my fill. (Actually, my last viewing of it was sometime within the last two years.)
I still recall my first viewing, on the film’s release. I was in college. The evening I went with friends was a rare night off from theater duties and I seem to recall we went to the last screening on a weekend night. I was the designated (Volkswagen) driver and I’m sure weed was involved. When we got to the theater, the film had just started. We noticed it was a packed house so seats were hard to find – there were only a few near the very front, very close to the screen. Your average Ken Russell film probably benefits from a certain distance (to absorb it better) but we were right on top of the extravaganza, swimming in Russell excess.
Subsequently, I saw the film again a number of times over the years. I would say that, musically, it’s the best thing The Who ever did. (I wasn’t particularly a fan of their work otherwise.) And Russell certainly did get right smack-dab on the band’s wavelength.
I don’t know that this is a film you’d remember for its performances, necessarily – though Ann-Margret is certainly game in everything she’s called on to do (imagine being on your way to work, knowing you were going to shoot the detergent/baked beans/chocolate sequence that day!) and more or less holds her own with the somewhat-complex singing.
Meeting A-M full-on in the bravery department is Tina Turner. Her ‘Acid Queen’ is a highly sexual and slightly frightening display.
I also like what Elton John (who appears to be having fun) does with ‘Pinball Wizard’ – but, in general, I do think the film might have been lifted a bit if (the real pros here aside) more of the cast could actually *act*. (Daltrey is a particular liability, making it unfortunate that he is Tommy.)
As the film reaches its conclusion, it seems to me it begins to run out of steam even as it also seems to be stretched for (I guess operatic) effect. (I don’t know, though, that one should feel…tired…by the end of it.)
Fave sequence: ‘Eyesight to the Blind’ (with Eric Clapton).