Captain Walker, portrayed by BAFTA nominated actor, Robert Powell (Mahler), is a man who is presumed to have perished fighting in World War II. One evening, he inexplicably appears in his young son Tommy’s (Barry Winch) room. After looking at Tommy, Walker leaves his son, and heads toward his wife Nora’s bedroom. Thinking that her husband died in battle, Nora who is played by Emmy & Golden Globe winner, Ann-Margret (Carnal Knowledge) has remarried. Nora’s new husband, the duplicitous, Frank, in a role completely embodied by BAFTA nominee, Oliver Reed (Women in Love), is shocked out of sleep by Captain Walker’s arrival. The irate Walker, who is screaming at the newlyweds, is struck by Frank, who uses the bedside lamp as a weapon. The entire event has been witnessed by Tommy. As if seeing his father killed before his eyes wasn’t traumatic enough, Nora and Frank repeatedly tell him that he didn’t see or hear anything, and that he will never speak about the incident, thus rendering Tommy, deaf, dumb, and blind. This scene is the catalyst which sets in motion the remainder of the psychedelic, movie musical.
Years later, grown up, Tommy, who is portrayed for the majority of the film by “Who” lead singer, Roger Daltrey, is still suffering with his disabilities. In order to reverse the damage they caused Tommy, Nora and Frank do everything they can in an attempt to cure him. While on his journey to try and regain his hearing, sight, and vocal ability, Tommy crosses paths with an eclectic group of individuals which provides the movie with a wealth of cameos. Those cameos include, but are not limited to: Eric Clapton as a guitar wielding evangelist, whose church disciples genuflect at the altar of iconic actress, Marilyn Monroe; there is also Tina Turner in the role of the Acid Queen – she is someone who Frank hopes will be able to cure Tommy of his problems through her offerings of sex and drugs; in addition, three time Oscar winning actor, Jack Nicholson (As Good as it Gets), plays the role of ‘The Specialist,’ who through a series of tests can’t find any discernible reason for Tommy’s disabilities to exist; last, but not least, is Sir Elton John in the role of a pinball champion, which I’ll discuss further in the next paragraph.
Through the years, Frank and Nora would find Tommy, even though he couldn’t see, staring into mirrors. Unbeknownst to the two of them, who are unaware that Tommy’s condition is psychosomatic, he is able to see his reflection. It is during one of these trippy, staring sessions, where his reflection, seemingly takes it upon itself to leave the house and travel to a junk yard, where there is an old, pinball machine. The police discover Tommy in the junk yard, and alert Frank and Nora. Once Franks arrives, and learns what Tommy had been doing, he senses a money making opportunity, which he immediately goes about setting in motion. In the end, in front of a live television audience, Tommy will square off in a showdown for pinball playing supremacy against Elton John’s character of the Pinball Wizard; it is a rollicking scene, in which Tommy will ultimately prevail. After winning the game, Tommy’s life is transformed in a profound way. Additionally, an accident caused by his overwrought mother, that destroys the mirror which led him to the discovery of his new found talent, transcends Tommy from a popular champion of the young to that of the level of a messianic figure.
Trivia buffs take note: David Bowie, who sadly passed away on January 10, 2016, was the original choice to play the Acid Queen. As a matter of fact, several roles in the film were originally intended for other actors. Peter Sellers and Christopher Lee were both considered for the part of ‘The Specialist.’ The song “Pinball Wizard” sung by Elton John, is, so far, the only cover of a “Who” song to break into the top ten. Rod Stewart, who had played the role of the pinball champion in a London stage production was originally cast to play the role in the film; apparently Elton John talked Stewart out of taking the part. In addition, George Lucas (Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope) was first given the opportunity to direct “Tommy,” but turned it down because he was working on “American Graffiti” at the time.
The screenplay for “Tommy” was written, and the film was directed by, Academy Award nominee Ken Russell (The Music Lovers). The source material for the movie, and most importantly the music, was taken from the rock opera written by “Who” guitarist, Pete Townshend. The songs were collectively written by “The Who” band as part of their 1969 concept album, and additional material was provided by “Who” bassist, John Entwistle, and drummer, Keith Moon. The film which has a runtime of 111 minutes, was released in the UK on March 26, 1975. The film garnered two Oscar nominations for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Ann-Margret and Best Music, Scoring Original Song Score and or Adaptation for Pete Townshend. While Ann-Margret lost at the 1976 Oscars for Best Actress to Louise Fletcher, who won for her role in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” she did take home the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress – Musical / Comedy. Additionally, “The Who” lead singer, Roger Daltrey, also was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture.
Unfortunately for Tommy, his regaining of his senses, and his new found devotional fame, don’t keep his money hungry parents, especially, his step-father Frank, from exploiting the situation. A retreat camp is built on the pretext that it will be a place where all are welcome to come and live in comfort, and want for nothing. Furthermore, those seeking to follow in Tommy’s footsteps, and be put on a path toward their own enlightenment, willingly subject themselves to the disabling conditions he lived with for years. Tommy’s followers are given earmuffs, blindfolded, and instructed to put a bottle cork in their mouths, before being led by a camp volunteer to a pinball machine to start on their journey.
How will it end? Will Tommy’s followers become enriched from their experience, and set out to spread a message of peace and love to the rest of the world? Do his followers revolt? Do they come to the realization that no one path is the correct one for all of humanity? What will become of Frank and Nora? What will Tommy do if he is abandoned by those who view him as a God-like figure? For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, and love musicals with a rocking sound track, just let your imagination take over for the under two hours it takes to watch the film, and enjoy.