Tommy is a 1975 British musical fantasy film based upon The Who's 1969 rock opera album Tommy.  It was directed by Ken Russell and featured a star-studded cast, including the band members themselves (most notably, lead singer Roger Daltrey, who plays the title role). The other cast members include Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed,Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Elton John, Arthur Brown, and Jack Nicholson.

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. In 1975 the film won the award for Rock Movie of the Year in the First Annual Rock Music Awards.

Contents Edit

  • 1 Plot
  • 2 Cast
  • 3 Production
  • 4 Quintaphonic Sound
  • 5 Changes from album
  • 6 Soundtrack
  • 7 References
  • 8 External links

Plot Edit

Prologue - 1945

The film begins as a sun lowers behind the horizon as a man stands atop a mountain, followed by several romantic experiences between the man, Royal Air Force Group Captain Walker (Robert Powell), and his wife, Nora (Ann-Margret), among the intimacy of nature. He has been drafted in the military and leaves Nora to fight in the war as a bomber pilot.

Captain Walker/It's a Boy

Sometime later, Nora receives the news that her husband is missing and believed to be dead. She gives birth to a baby boy, Tommy, on the "first day of peace."

Bernie's Holiday Camp

Six years later in 1950, Nora meets Frank (Oliver Reed), known to Tommy as Uncle Frank, at "Bernie's Holiday Camp" and starts a relationship with him. Tommy, still only a boy now, hopes to one day own his own holiday camp as he lives on without a real father.

1951/What about the Boy?

Frank moves in with Nora and Tommy, quitting his job at Bernie's Holiday Camp. After Tommy is kissed good night by Nora, Captain Walker returns home and wakes him up. Frank and Nora are having sex in the room over, though, and Tommy follows Captain Walker to the lovers' bedroom where Walker sees Nora and Frank (now Tommy's stepfather) in each other's arms. Tommy then watches Frank kill Walker by smashing a lamp on his head. (In the original album version and later Broadway play, however, it is Captain Walker who kills his wife's lover.) Tommy is then told that, "you didn't hear it, you didn't see it, you won't say nothing to no-one".

Amazing Journey

Tommy goes into shock and becomes non-responsive, leading people to believe that he is deaf, dumb, and blind—while Tommy stares at his reflection, his mind internally going on adventures with his dead father.


Nora is distraught at Tommy's condition while Frank finds it to be a nuisance; this comes to a head at the Christmas party—where they fear for his soul.

Eyesight to the 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. Nora takes Tommy to areligious cult that worships Marilyn Monroe (with Eric Clapton as the preacher and Arthur Brown as the priest). Nora tries to get Tommy to try some of the curing methods, but Tommy breaks the Marilyn Monroe statue.

The Acid Queen

Frank then brings Tommy to the "Acid Queen" (Tina Turner), a prostitute dealing in LSD, who sends Tommy on a wild trip that ultimately fails to awaken him. The experience also causes the Acid Queen to go crazy.

Do You Think It's Alright? (1)

Nora and Frank leave Tommy with his sadistic cousin, Kevin (Paul Nicholas).

Cousin Kevin

Kevin beats and tortures Tommy, but eventually grows bored of this activity because Tommy cannot respond.

Do You Think It's Alright? (2)

Frank and Nora go for a night out and leave Tommy with his Uncle Ernie (Keith Moon), a filthy, alcoholic child molester.

Fiddle About

When Frank and Nora leave, Ernie molests Tommy, having at last found a child he can abuse without being caught as Tommy does not know what is happening. The plan backfires when Frank and Nora return home and Frank finds Ernie in bed with Tommy. Ernie is caught in the act.

Do You Think It's Alright? (3)

One night, Tommy is staring at the mirror while his parents eat dinner, and Tommy's id appears in the mirror and guides him to a junkyard.


There, he finds a pinball machine, and spends the rest of the night playing on it, until the police bring Frank and Nora to him.

Extra, Extra, Extra

Becoming an expert at pinball since he cannot see or hear any distractions, Tommy wins game after game, gaining the admiration of local players and making his parents wealthy.

Pinball Wizard

Tommy now faces the local champ (Elton John) at a televised pinball championship, featuring The Who performing (sans Daltrey) as the champ's backing band. To the champ's amazement, Tommy keeps out-scoring him. The match ends with the hysterical crowd storming the stage, the band smashing their instruments, and the defeated champ (dressed in Doc Marten boots that are several feet high), falling into the hands of a booing audience who carry him out of the hall. Tommy is hailed as the new champ.


Nora revels in the family's new-found wealth, but sees it as worthless because Tommy is still disabled. Deeply upset, she throws her champagne bottle at a television and hallucinates floods of champagne, beans, laundry detergent, and chocolate pouring from the broken screen.

There's a Doctor

Frank announces that he has found a doctor who can help people like Tommy, so they see him the next day.

Go to the Mirror

The doctor (Jack Nicholson) confirms that Tommy's problems are psychosomatic and not physical; Nora watches Tommy staring at the mirror and wonders, "What is happening in his head?"

Tommy, Can You Hear Me?

On the way home, Nora tries to get Tommy's attention, but with no avail.

Smash the Mirror!

Amazed that Tommy can see himself but not her, Nora pushes him into the mirror, shattering it.

I'm Free

Tommy falls into a swimming pool, and his senses return. He now has a messianistic vision in which people obtain enlightenment by playing pinball.

Mother and Son

Nora finds Tommy on a rock, and—now that he can hear, see, and speak—she tells him about his fame and fortune, He then tells her about his messianistic vision—saying, "Pinball ... is far beyond a game beyond your wildest dreams. Those who love me have a higher path to follow now," and then "baptizing" her.

Miracle Cure

With a "T" topped with a sphere (a pinball) as his symbol, Tommy starts holding rallies and lectures, with Uncle Ernie selling merchandise.

Sally Simpson

Sally Simpson (Victoria Russell), a reverend's young daughter obsessed with Tommy, begs her parents to let her go to one of his sermons. Furious when they deny her permission, she spends all afternoon getting ready and sneaks out of her house to the sermon, which takes the form of a wild concert set to gospel music. Sally sits at the front row and as the police desperately try to control all the screaming girls, Sally pushes past onto the edge of the stage, attempting to touch Tommy. Frank, sitting behind Tommy onstage, kicks her away. Sally gashes her face on a chair and the ambulance men carry her out. She grows up to marry a green-skinned, guitar playing rock star who is a cross between a cowboy and Frankenstein's monster (Gary Rich). Her parents are distraught that their daughter has become a groupie. Sally forevermore carries a horrific scar streaked across her cheek to remember Tommy by.


In just a year, Tommy declares himself a "sensation" and begins to have a profound impact on people whenever he nears them, including motorcycle gangs and slot-machine gambling Teddy Boys. As Tommy flies above them in a hang-glider, his mere presence converts them and many others to a new life according to his beliefs, as opposed to their previous wicked ways.


At Tommy's invitation, masses of people begin to gather at his house, seeking spiritual fulfillment. However, the house is not big enough to accommodate the massive population, so Tommy decides to open a holiday camp, his lifelong wish from the beginning of the movie.

T.V. Studio

Nora appears on television advertising his plans, and Frank intends to eventually have a "Tommy camp" in every major city in the world.

Tommy's Holiday Camp

Crowds flock to Tommy's "holiday camp". They arrive by the bus-load, finding Uncle Ernie to welcome them. Sitting atop a motorised church organ that doubles as a cash register, Uncle Ernie sings of the joys of the camp while also selling Tommy merchandise to the crowds.

We're Not Gonna Take It

A frustrated crowd begins clamouring for Tommy to bring them enlightenment. Tommy begins preaching, bans drinking and smoking, and has each follower wear a headgear that blinds, deafens, and silences them and then they are taken to a pinball machine. The followers do not find Tommy's enlightenment, start rioting, destroying the machines, and set fire to the camp. They retreat at the sound of a police siren. Frank and Nora die in the attack.

See Me, Feel Me/Listening To You

Tommy, only mildly injured, flees as flames engulf the camp, and "rejects" the "religion" he has built around himself. As Tommy escapes, he arrives at the same place in the wilderness in the beginning of the film where his parents spent a romantic day together (presumably the day he was conceived). In the final shot, Tommy greets a rising sun, and a new dawn.[8]

Cast[edit] Edit

  • Ann-Margret as Nora Walker
  • Oliver Reed as "Uncle" Frank Hobbs
  • Roger Daltrey as Tommy Walker
    • Barry Winch as young Tommy
  • Elton John as The Pinball Wizard
  • Tina Turner as The Acid Queen
  • Eric Clapton as The Preacher
  • John Entwistle as Himself
  • Keith Moon as Uncle Ernie/Himself
  • Paul Nicholas as Cousin Kevin
  • Jack Nicholson as The Specialist
  • Robert Powell as Group Captain Walker
  • Arthur Brown as The Priest
  • Pete Townshend as The Narrator/Himself
  • Victoria Russell as Sally Simpson
  • Ben Aris as Rev. A. Simpson V. C.
  • Mary Holland as Mrs. Simpson
  • Ken Russell as Cripple

Production[edit] Edit

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 film 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. The Bernie's Holiday Camp ballroom sequence was shot inside the Gaiety Theatre on South Parade Pier. Exterior shots were filmed at Hilsea Lido.[9] The Sally Simpson interior sequence was filmed in the Wesley Hall in Fratton Road Portsmouth. The exterior intro sequence to the scene however shows Sally Simpson buying a badge and entering South Parade Pier.

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.[10][11] The Pinball Wizard sequence was shot at the Kings Theatre in Southsea,[12] others on Portsdown Hill, which overlooks Portsmouth and local churches were used. All Saints in Commercial Road was used for the Sally Simpson Wedding scene whilst the meeting in the same sequence was filmed at the Wesley Hall in Fratton Road. The Eyesight to the Blind sequence was filmed at St Andrews Church in Henderson Road in Southsea.The other church featured was Warblington Church near Havant in Hampshire.

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 1967 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.[10] 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.[13]

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 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 Townshend initially balked at Russell's wish to have The Who performing behind Elton in the sequence (they did not perform the audio here), and also objected to wearing the pound-note suits (which were in fact stitched together from novelty pound-note teatowels).[10] On The Who's involvement with the film, members Daltrey played the title character, Moon played, in essence, a dual role as both Uncle Ernie and as himself along with Entwistle and Townshend lip-synching on their respective instruments in the "Eyesight to the Blind" and "Pinball Wizard" segments.

Quintaphonic Sound[edit] Edit

The original release of Tommy used a sound system devised by sound engineer John Mosely called "Quintaphonic Sound".[14] At the time that the film was in production various "Quadraphonic" (four speaker) sound systems were being marketed to the domestic HiFi market. Some of these were so-called "matrix" systems which combined the four original channels into two which could be recorded on, or transmitted by, existing two-channel stereo systems such as LP records or FM radio. John Mosely used one of these systems (QS from Sansui) to record front left, front right, back left and back right channels on the left and right tracks of a four-track magnetic striped print of the Cinemascope type. A discrete center channel was also recorded on the center track of the print. The fourth (surround) track on the striped print was left unused. In addition John Mosely used DBX noise reduction on the magnetic tracks.

Unlike the usual multiple small surround speakers used in cinemas, the Quintaphonic system specified just two rear speakers, but of the same type as those used at the front.

One problem that arose was that by the 1970s the four-track magnetic sound system was largely moribund. Only a few theatres were equipped with the necessary magnetic playback heads etc. and of those that did in many cases it was not in working order. So in addition to installing the extra electronics and rear speakers John Mosely and his team had to repair and align the basic magnetic playback equipment. So each theatre that showed Tommy using the Quintaphonic system had to be specially prepared to take the film. In this respect there is a similarity between Tommy and Walt Disney's Fantasia, for which a special sound system (Fantasound) had been devised and required each theatre that showed it in the original release to be specially prepared. Also, like Fantasound, Quintaphonic Sound was never used again.

Tommy was later released with mono, conventional four-track magnetic and Dolby Stereo soundtracks.

Changes from album[edit] Edit

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" (alternatively named "You Didn't Hear It") 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 is shot down in wartime, never knowing his unborn son. In the film, the wife's lover (Reed) kills Walker in front of Tommy, heightening the psychological trauma and allowing Captain Walker to be in Tommy's secret fantasies.

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 was known for his singing ability (Reed's character's songs were cut from Oliver!, and Nicholson's in On a Clear Day You Can See Forever appeared only in the now-lost roadshow version) – 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 versions:

  • The film opens with 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). The song also features the melody from, and even foreshadows, "Tommy's Holiday Camp".
  • "1921" 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 killing.
  • "The Amazing Journey" (shortened to three minutes) has almost completely different lyrics, and the "guide" from the album is depicted as Tommy's dead 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, and sings a verse in the song but is not featured on the soundtrack. According to Russell's DVD audio commentary, the concept of people literally worshipping celebrities (in this case Marilyn Monroe) and several other elements in the film were adapted from his pre-existing treatment for a film about false religions, which he had developed prior to Tommy but for which he had never been able to secure financial backing.
  • 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", "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, then new, synthesiser orchestration) precedes "Extra, Extra, Extra" and "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 (for this and many other songs) is heavily edited, however, and is a noticeably different mix from the version on the soundtrack album.
  • A new linking theme, "Extra, 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" and precedes "Pinball Wizard".
  • "Pinball Wizard" has extra lyrics and movements. It features guitar and keyboard solos (the guitars are only readily discernible on the soundtrack album), and an outro with a riff reminiscent of the Who's first single, "I Can't Explain".
  • A new song, "Champagne", which follows "Pinball Wizard", covers the sequence of Tommy's stardom and wealth and his parents' greed. Like many other songs, it features Tommy singing "See Me, Feel Me" interludes: this is the first song with Daltrey singing for Tommy. In the film (but not on the soundtrack), the song is introduced by a mock TV commercial—reminiscent of the Who's early years when they madejingles.
  • "Go to the Mirror" is shortened, not featuring the elements of "Listening To You", nor the phrase "Go to the mirror, boy."
  • "I'm Free" is moved earlier, and now follows "Smash The Mirror!" (as was done on the 1971 symphonic album); 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. In the film it occurs between "Sally Simpson" and "Welcome". (On the soundtrack album, it occurs between "Mother and Son" and "Miracle Cure"—with the extra [narration] lyrics and guitar solo included on the cassette and CD versions, but not the LP version.)
  • "Sally Simpson" is re-arranged with a Bo Diddley beat and in the film is preceded by "Miracle Cure"—which features an extra verse.
  • In "Sally Simpson", the album version mentions her father's Rolls-Royce as blue, but the film changes the lyrics to black (the Rolls-Royce in the film is also black).
  • In "Sally Simpson", the album version describes Tommy giving a lesson. In the film, Tommy gives a lesson, and the lyrics are changed to the words of the lesson.
  • 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 medley "See Me Feel Me/Listening To You";[8] this covers the climactic film sequences of Tommy's fall from grace and his final redemption.
  • The CD reissue of the soundtrack album opens with a newer, previously unreleased version of "Overture From Tommy", which was not included either in the film or on the original soundtrack LP. Although the track is listed in the CD's song credits as being performed by The Who, it is actually a Pete Townshend solo number with him playing all the instruments (as with "Prologue - 1945" and other tracks) – neither John Entwistle nor Keith Moon appear on it, as they do on all other selections on the soundtrack credited to "The Who," regardless of whether Roger Daltrey performs as vocalist.

Soundtrack[edit] Edit

Main article: Tommy (soundtrack)

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

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