Decades Blogathon – Tommy (1975)

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Hello all, for the second entry I’d like to introduce Carly Booth of Carly Hearts Movies. She decided to take a look at a 1975 picture that I personally have never heard of. It’s called Tommy. Check out her review below and please give her site a look! Thank you Carly!

Directed by: Ken Russell

Written by: Ken Russell (screenplay) and Pete Townshend (rock opera)

Starring: Roger Daltrey, Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed

A psychosomatically deaf, dumb and blind boy becomes a master pinball player and the object of a religious cult because of that.

Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

Looks like Rocktober came early this year!

What do you get when you take one of the greatest rock bands of all time (i.e., The Who), Robert Stigwood, Ann-Margret, every ‘70s rocker and their mother, and mountains of cocaine?

You get one of the weirdest movies to come out of the ‘70s, and this is the decade that brought us Eraserhead.

Then again, I was born in 1994, 19 years after Tommy came out. Who am I to judge cinema of the ‘70s?

A large part of my childhood was spent rummaging through my parents’ CD and record collection, and among my mother’s albums was The Who’s Tommy.

I forgot my parents had such awesome taste in music until I was 15, when I actually listened to their albums. I loved all of these discoveries, but I specifically remember Tommy blowing my mind. The lyrical content made no sense but simultaneously intrigued me, and I loved the music on its own. Around the 3:20 mark of “Amazing Journey?” Sheer bliss.

Around that same time, I sought out the film, and when I finally sat down to watch the thing, I had this look on my face like “What the hell was that?”

How timely of me to review this movie for the Decades Blogathon, and not just because my local art-deco theater is showing the documentary Lambert & Stamp. This year also marks the 40th anniversary of Ken Russell’s musical mind screw, which (believe it or not) was nominated for two Academy Awards. Even with that in mind, the film is criminally ignored.

Tommy is a star-studded affair, with lead singer Roger Daltrey as Tommy, Ann-Margret as Tommy’s exploitative mother, Oliver Reed as his oafish stepdad, and a busload of ‘70s rockers including Elton John, Eric Clapton, Tina Turner (in a role meant for David Bowie) and the band’s late drummer Keith Moon as Tommy’s alcoholic/pedophile uncle. Jack Nicholson even makes an appearance as a doctor who tries to cure Tommy’s condition. You ever dance with a pinball wizard in the pale moonlight?

Given Ken Russell’s previous track record (Women in Love, The Devils), Tommy is also Russell’s most family-friendly film. You know, if you consider child molestation family-friendly.

So if you have no idea what this rock opera is about, that’s okay because neither does anyone else! It’s about a boy who sees his father die in front of him and becomes deaf, blind, and mute from the shock. Then quite suddenly, the little boy grows up!

Hold on, let’s take a look at actual movie stills here.

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What’s wrong with this picture?

I know special effects in 1975 were rudimentary compared to today’s CGI, but I would like to think that there was at least some technology back in the day to keep the lead actor’s eye color consistent!

I’d normally be skeptical of a band casting their lead singer in the title role of their own rock opera. That’s a bit like casting your siblings in a Super 8 remake of Friday the 13th, but you know what? I can’t complain, because Roger Daltrey isn’t that bad an actor! Don’t believe me? Watch his cameo on the musical episode of That ‘70s Show as Fez’s curmudgeonly choir director. It’s on Netflix, last episode of season four. You’re welcome.

This is just my humble opinion but I must throw it out there: Roger Daltrey is one of the sexiest frontmen of any rock band ever. If not in my top three, he’s easily in my top five. Need I say more?

…(slowly backs away)…

Anyway, back to the plot. After suffering years of abuse at the hands of relatives, he discovers pinball and becomes a master. Tommy then becomes a religious figure and hilarity doesn’t ensue.

Tommy is almost entirely sung through, and the arrangements are quite different from the original rock opera. They sound like a marching band crossed with a cat walking all over a vintage Casio keyboard, but the more I listen to those arrangements, the more I like them.

There are even a couple of songs in the movie that aren’t on the original album, and boy howdy are these numbers a doozy. Tommy’s mother, overwhelmed by her son’s newfound fame, sings “Champagne,” a scene which infamously ended in Ann-Margret writhing around in baked beans. Later, Ann-Margret and Roger Daltrey sing a mother-son duet with incestuous subtext, appropriately titled “Mother and Son.

Yeah, have fun watching this movie with your parents.

And can we talk about some of the hilariously ’70s visual effects? Just look.

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Eh, still better than the VFX in The Legend of Hercules. 

It’s impossible to describe this movie in words and do it justice. You must see it to believe it. Sure it’s a weird, creepy movie and (as a whole) not very good. Some may even go so far as to call it a cash grab, but as someone who loves both The Who and weird, creepy movies, I will defend Tommy to my grave.

RATING: 3.5/5

13 thoughts on “Decades Blogathon – Tommy (1975)

  1. You’re right. This movie is sadly ignored even with two Oscar nominations. I forgot that Ann-Margret was nominated for Best Actress. Louise Fletcher was flawless that year though. Which is kind of a funny coincidence because I’m doing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. 😀

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  2. I always love a good film education. As I don’t watch hardly any musicals, I need to look into this. The Who is a great band. Totally fascinating


  3. There’s something about the over-the-top visual style about this movie that I love. But it definitely helps to be a big Who fan, since taken by itself the movie doesn’t make a ton of sense. And they probably should have hired an actor who could actually since a little instead of Oliver Reed.

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  4. Pingback: Tommy (Decades Blogathon) | Carly Hearts Movies

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