F ilm version of “Tommy” mind-boggling’
Ken Russell’s film version of The Who’s
rock opera “Tommy" is terrific, fantastic,
dazzling, overwhelmingly the best of the
rock operas, and glittering cinema as well.
For once, Russell’s brilliant, daring but
erratic talents are matched with the right
property. I cannot think of another director
doing a better job with the material.
Russell’s brashness has often given his
previous films a swift kick where it was
needed without particularly advancing the
theme, but here it is germane to the entire
concept. Pete Townshend of The Who
originally wrote it, with additional material
by colleagues John Entwistle and Keigh
Moon; the fourth member, Roger Daltry,
stars as Tommy.
Tommy (Barry Winch) is 6 as the film
opem in 1951. His father was killed in the
war, and his grieving mother (Ann-Mar-
gret) has finally met a man she loves
again, a seedy social director at a holiday
camp,(01iver Reed). They marry.
But the first husband, Tommy’s father,
is not dead as believed, merely badly
wounded, and one night he returns home to
find his wife in bed with Reed. In the
ensuing excitement, Reed kills him and it
is witnessed by the child.
The dazed Tommy is shrieked at, or
rather sung at — nothing is spoken by his
mother and stepfather, “You didn't see it,
you didn’t hear it, and you won’t say
anything to anyone,” and he becomes
totally traumatized - growing up deaf,
dumb, and blind.
He suffers the invariable torments of the
handicapped, and his guilty mother end-
lessly takes him to doctors and faith
healers, desperately hoping for a miracle.
In the film’s two mbst incredible se-
quences, Ann-Margret takes him first to a
shrine devoted to a sanctified Marilyn
Monroe, where the priests, all wearing
Marilyn masks, administer communion and
offer salvation; the shrine itself is an
enormous blowup of the skirt blowing
sequence from “The Seven Year Itch.”
Marilyn has become the Golden Calf of
commerce, worshipped by the maimed and
crippled, the Bernadette of the 19605. Eric
Clapton is the preacher.
In the second sequence, Tina Turner as
the Acid Queen tries to make a man of
Tommy and it’s been a long while since the
screen has witnessed a performance of
such sheer animal vitality.
Eventually Tommy becomes. Pinball
Champ of the world, wresting the title
away from Elton John, in another dazzling
performance, wearing three-foot boots as
beﬁts the king of glitter rock.
Tommy’s senses return as success
comes, and he is greeted by the youth,
ever desperate for a fresh panacea as the
Messiah. Tommy enjoys a brief season of
veneration, ﬂying everywhere on a kite as
the current replacement for God, Jesus,
and Marilyn, until the mob must inevitably
ﬁnd sornething newer yet. The apocalyptic
ending is as expected as it is satisfying.
Young Winch and Daltry are enormously
appealing as the young and older Tommy,
Reed is excellent as the not quite totally
evil stepfather, Ann-Margret is effective in
some scenes, ineffective in others, Jack
Nicholson is in for a cameo as a doctor,
and John, Clapton and Miss Turner, simply
But the chief .triumph remains Pete
Townshend’s, who wrote it, and Russell’ 5,
who found the way to make of it a mind