If you've ever wanted to hear Jack Nicholson sing (or try to) or marvel at the sight of Ann-Margret drunkenly cavorting in a cascade of baked beans, Tommy
is the movie you've been waiting for. As it turns out, the Who's brilliant rock opera is sublimely matched to director Ken Russell's penchant for cinematic excess, and this 1975 production finds Russell at the peak of his filmmaking audacity. It's a fever-dream of musical bombast, custom-fit to the thematic ambition of Pete Townshend's epic rock drama, revolving around the titular "deaf, dumb, and blind kid" (played by Who vocalist Roger Daltrey) who survives the childhood trauma that stole his senses to become a Pinball Wizard messiah in Townshend's grandiose attack on the hypocrisy of organised religion.
The story is remarkably coherent considering the hypnotic dream-state induced by Russell's visuals. Tommy's odyssey is rendered through wall-to-wall music, each song representing a pivotal chapter in Tommy's chronology, from the bloodstream shock of "The Acid Queen" (performed to the hilt by Tina Turner) to Nicholson's turn as a well-intentioned physician, Elton John's towering rendition of "Pinball Wizard" and Daltrey's epiphanous rendition of "I'm Free". Other performers include Eric Clapton and (most outrageously) the Who's drummer Keith Moon, and through it all Russell is almost religiously faithful to Townshend's artistic vision. Although it divided critics when first released, Tommy now looks likes a minor classic of gonzo cinema, worthy of the musical genius that fuelled its creation. --Jeff Shannon
This classic rock opera is brought energetically to life by an outstanding cast including many stars of the rock music industry. Told through the remarkable music of The Who, this is the story of Tommy, who, when just a boy of six, witnessed the murder of his father by his mother (Ann-Margaret) and her lover (Oliver Reed). They command him, "You didn't hear it, you didn't see it, and you won't say anything to anyone.." As a result, the traumatised boy retreats into the shadows of his mind and becomes deaf, dumb and blind. Growing into manhood, Tommy (Roger Daltrey) is subjected to several bizarre cure attempts by the Acid Queen (Tina Turner), the preacher (Eric Clapton), and the Specialist (Jack Nicholson). In spite of his handicap, Tommy defeats the Pinball Wizard (Elton John) and becomes the champ, attaining a devoted following. When he is finally cured, he is hailed by his fans as a "Messiah".