[Review] The Who: Tommy: The Movie (1975)

Ken Russell’s film adaptation of Tommy featuring a who’s who of rock and film stars, including The Who.

Kronomyth 10.5: Do you think it’s alright to leave the boy with Cousin Kenny?

Okay, so Oklahoma! it wasn’t, but even Pete Townshend didn’t envision a Tommy as twisted as this: Ann-Margaret in a full-body fishnet covered in beans; Roger Daltrey in a shiny, syringe-spiked iron maiden; Elton John in six-foot platform shoes; Marilyn Monroe turned miraculous madonna. Ken Russell went full-on gonzo with this one, turning the rock opera into a Tommy Horror Picture Show, which I suppose is fine if it’s midnight and you’re stoned (or just stone-bored) out of your gourd. The trouble with Tommy the Movie is that, for the most part, the singers can’t act and the actors can’t sing. You could also argue that the director lacked proper direction, turning Tommy into a Felliniesque travesty of taste, but then you’d have to use the word “Felliniesque” and you don’t want to do that, do you?

As much as I enjoy concept albums, rock music rarely makes the leap to the silver screen gracefully: The Wall, The Song Remains The Same, 200 Motels, Give My Regards To Broad Street, True Stories. Quadrophenia made more sense as a movie, I thought, but it wasn’t a musical. Tommy at least deserves credit for being a remarkably ambitious adaptation of the original, one that sought to match art with art. Given the fact that people still talk about this fim, maybe Russell was an inspired choice after all. Plus, it couldn’t have been easy to corral so many personalities and egos (Pete Townshend, Ann-Margaret, Oliver Reed, Jack Nicholson, Elton John, Tina Turner and dear old Moonie among them) while working with a lead actor (Daltrey) who had no real acting experience. Come to think of it, only a maverick like Russell would have taken the job in the first place.

Original Soundtrack

1. Prologue/1945
2. Captain Walker/It’s A Boy
3. Bernie’s Holiday Camp
4. 1951/What About The Boy?
5. Amazing Journey
6. Christmas
7. Eyesight To The Blind
8. Acid Queen
9. Do You Think It’s Alright
10. Cousin Kevin
11. Do You Think It’s Alright
12. Fiddle About
13. Do You Think It’s Alright
14. Sparks
15. Extra, Extra, Extra
16. Pinball Wizard
17. Champagne
18. There’s A Doctor
19. Go To The Mirror
20. Tommy Can You Hear Me
21. Smash The Mirror
22. I’m Free
23. Mother And Son
24. Sensation
25. Miracle Cure
26. Sally Simpson
27. Welcome
28. T.V. Studio
29. Tommy’s Holiday Camp
30. We’re Not Gonna Take It
31. Listening To You/See Me, Feel Me

The Players

Roger Daltrey (Tommy), John Entwistle (himself), Ann-Margaret (The Mother), Keith Moon (Uncle Ernie), Robert Powell (Captain Walker), Oliver Reed (The Lover), Pete Townshend (himself, musical director) with Eric Clapton (The Preacher), Elton John (The Pinball Wizard), Paul Nicholas (Cousin Kevin), Jack Nicholson (The Doctor), Tina Turner (The Acid Queen). Directed and screenplay by Ken Russell; produced by Robert Stigwood and Ken Russell.

The Plastic

Released on 2LP in August 1975 in the UK (Polydor, 2657 014), the US (Polydor, PD-29502) and Colombia, France and Germany (Polydor, 2625 028) with gatefold cover and lyric innersleeves; reached #2 on the US charts and #30 on the UK charts.

  1. Re-released on VHS in 1988 in the UK (Warner Bros., PES-38109).
  2. Re-released on 2DVD Collector’s Edition in 2004 in the US (Prism, ODX-20290).

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