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File:Tommy film poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byKen Russell
Screenplay byKen Russell
Produced by
  • Ken Russell
  • Robert Stigwood
  • Dick Bush
  • Ronnie Taylor
Edited byStuart Baird
Music byThe Who
RSO Records
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • 19 March 1975 (1975-03-19) (United States)[1]
  • 26 March 1975 (1975-03-26) (United Kingdom)
Running time
108 minutes[2]
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$5 million[3]
Box office$34.3 million[4]

Tommy is a 1975 British musical fantasy drama film based upon The Who's 1969 rock opera album Tommy about a seemingly disabled boy who becomes a religious pinball champion.[5] Directed by Ken Russell, the film featured a star-studded ensemble cast, including the band members themselves (most notably, lead singer Roger Daltrey, who plays the title role), 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.[6] In 1975, the film won the award for Rock Movie of the Year in the First Annual Rock Music Awards.[7]


"Prologue 1945". A montage displays the honeymoon of Captain Walker (Robert Powell) and his wife, Nora (Ann-Margret). After his leave ends, Walker goes off to fight in World War II as a bomber pilot, but is shot down in the middle of a battle. "Captain Walker" is listed as missing in action and is presumed dead, although—unknown to his family—the badly burned Walker is in fact alive. Back in England, Nora goes into labor and gives birth to a son, Tommy, on V-E Day. Five years later, Nora has begun a new relationship with Frank (Oliver Reed), a worker she and Tommy meet at Bernie's Holiday Camp. Tommy looks up to his "Uncle" Frank and expresses his desires to run his own camp some day. In the 1950s, Nora and Frank dream of their future, but, late that evening, encounter the returning Captain Walker. He surprises Frank and Nora in bed, leading to a struggle and the Captain's subsequent murder by lamp. Tommy, having followed his father into the room, has witnessed everything. Nora and Frank nervously yell at Tommy, which, along with the trauma of watching his father's murder, puts Tommy into a psychedelia-like "Amazing Journey", in which, outwardly, he cannot seem to see, hear or speak.

As time passes, Nora and Frank make several fruitless attempts to bring Tommy out of his state, including a Preacher (Eric Clapton) and his Marilyn Monroe worshipping cult ("Eyesight to the Blind") and an LSD serving cocotte and self-proclaimed "Acid Queen", (Tina Turner) while also putting him with babysitters such as Tommy's bullying "Cousin Kevin" (Paul Nicholas), and his perverted "Uncle" Ernie (Keith Moon) ("Fiddle About") both of whom abuse him. Nora and Frank begin to become more and more lethargic and leave Tommy standing at the mirror one night, allowing him to wander off. He follows a vision of himself out of the house and to a junkyard pinball machine. Tommy is recognized by Nora, Frank, and the media as a pinball prodigy, which is made even more impressive with his catatonic state. During a championship game, Tommy faces the "Pinball Wizard" (Elton John) with the Who as the champion's backing band. Nora watches her son's televised victory and celebrates his (and her) success ("Champagne"), but soon has a nervous breakdown upon thinking about the real extremes of Tommy's condition.

Later, Frank finds a Specialist (Jack Nicholson) for Tommy. The Specialist, upon testing the boy, concludes that his state is emotionally, rather than physically triggered and the only hope is for him to continue to "Go to the Mirror". During the tests, Nora and the Specialist flirt, much to Frank's jealousy. Nora's growing frustration prompts her to "Smash the Mirror" by throwing Tommy through it. This incidentally resurges Tommy from his state and he runs loose ("I'm Free"). Nora finds Tommy and explains what has happened during the time he has missed, while Tommy reveals that his experiences have transformed him and that he wishes to transform the world ("Mother and Son")

Tommy, a self-proclaimed "Sensation", goes on lecture tours which resemble glam rock/gospel shows and spreads a message of enlightenment by hang glider, gaining friends and followers everywhere he goes ("Sally Simpson"). Tommy and a more enlightened and elated Nora and Frank "Welcome" converts to their house, which quickly becomes too crowded to accommodate everyone. Tommy opens an extension for his religious campus ("Tommy's Holiday Camp").

The converts, confused about Tommy's odd practices and others' commercial exploitation of the compound, wrathfully demand Tommy teach them something useful. Tommy does so, deliberately deafening, muting, and blinding everyone, only to inadvertently invoke a riot. The followers kill Nora and Frank in the riot and destroy the camp in a fire (We're Not Gonna Take It). Tommy finds his parents in the debris and mourns before escaping into the mountains from the beginning of the film. He ascends the same peak where his parents celebrated their honeymoon, celebrating the rising sun (Listening to You)[8].


  • Ann-Margret as Nora Walker
  • Oliver Reed as "Uncle" Frank Hobbs
  • Roger Daltrey as Tommy Walker
    • Barry Winch as young Tommy
      • Alison Dowling as young Tommy's singing voice
  • 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


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, and the two pinball machines used were a 1965 Kings & Queens by Gottlieb—used by Roger Daltrey—and a Gottlieb Buckaroo also from 1965, used by Elton John. The machines' scoring displays were modified from their originals for the scene, in order to accommodate for large scores.[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, Roger Smith, 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 tea-towels.[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. About his role as the Specialist, Jack Nicholson stated: "In my whole career there was only one time when a director said to me, 'OK, come right down the pike and just look beautiful, Jack.' That was Ken Russell on Tommy."[14]


Critical response[]

The film currently holds a 76% approval rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 25 reviews, of which 19 are positive. Roger Ebert gave the film three stars out of four, and praised Ann-Margret as being "simply great as Tommy's mother". He called the pinball tournament sequence "the movie's best single scene: a pulsating, orgiastic turn-on edited with the precision of a machine gun burst."[15]

"Tommy was a great film," said Ol' Dirty Bastard. "A blind, deaf kid who could play pinball. What a very great idea."[16]

Awards and nominations[]

Award Category Recipient(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Actress Ann-Margret Nominated
Best Original Song Score or Adaptation Score Pete Townshend Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Tommy Nominated
Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical Ann-Margret Won
Most Promising Newcomer Roger Daltrey Nominated

Quintaphonic Sound[]

The original release of Tommy used a sound system devised by sound engineer John Mosely called "Quintaphonic Sound".[17] 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 Regular Matrix 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 and other equipment; of those that did in many cases it was not in working order. Thus, 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. Each theatre that showed Tommy using the Quintaphonic system accordingly 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 (five-channel stereo, in the form of 5.1 surround sound, would eventually make a comeback).

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

Changes from the album[]

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".
  • The story's setting is updated so that the action goes through modern times (modern as of the 1970s). From this, the track "1921" from the album is changed to "1951" and is made a medley, being titled "What About the Boy?" on the soundtrack, in which Capt. Walker dies instead of the lover (Frank, in this context).
  • "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, rather than the "tall stranger" in a "sparked, glittering gown" from the album. A new introduction is also added in lieu of the "Deaf, dumb, and blind boy; he's in a quiet vibration land..." from the album. The movie version also ends with different fantastic lyrics, going "His eyes are the eyes that transmit all he knows, The truth burns so bright it can melt winter snows. A towering shadow, so black and so high, A white sun burning the earth and the sky.".
  • 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 (Clapton), leader of the Marilyn Monroe cult. 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 made jingles.
  • "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.


Main article: Tommy (soundtrack)

Sales chart performance[]

Year Chart Position
1975 Billboard Pop Albums 2
1975 UK Chart Albums 21


  1. Tommy (1975) – Release dates
  2. "Tommy (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. 6 November 1974. Retrieved 22 May 2013.
  3. Tommy (1975) – Box office / business
  4. "Tommy, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  5. "The Who Official Band Website – Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon | Movies". Retrieved 29 November 2011.
  6. "Festival de Cannes: Tommy". Retrieved 4 May 2009.
  7. "1975 – First Annual Rock Music Awards". Retrieved 23 December 2011.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Note: "See Me, Feel Me/Listening To You" is the name given in the song book for the soundtrack album; the soundtrack album itself, counter-intuitively, calls it "Listening To You/See Me, Feel Me".
  9. "Sparkling blue water of Hilsea Lido at its best". The News. 20 December 2011. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Ken Russell commentary from Tommy DVD. Umbrella Entertainment. 2004.
  11. "Southsea South Parade Pier". 11 June 1974. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
  12. Owen, Chris (15 September 2010). "Steve brings life to Who rocker's pinball". The News (Portsmouth). Archived from the original on 25 September 2010. Retrieved 25 September 2010. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  13. "IMDb – Tommy (1975) – Trivia". Retrieved 23 December 2011.
  14. "'I do this because I love it'",, 3 February 2008, retrieved 5 July 2015
  15. "Tommy Movie Review & Film Summary". Retrieved 25 December 2015.
  16. Wilkinson, Roy (July 1997). "One of these men is God". Select: 58.
  17. Mosely, John (January 1977). "Quintaphonic Sound". Journal of the SMPTE. l86.

External links[]

Template:The Who Template:Tommy Template:Ken Russell