Tommy (The Movie), 1975: Cast List Of The Who's Rock Opera
Ann-Margret, Roger Daltrey, and Elton John in 'Tommy.' Source: IMDB
The 1975 musical film Tommy, based on the Pete Townshend-penned rock opera of the same name, brought together a cast of Tina Turner, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Ann-Margret, Oliver Reed and Jack Nicholson. It was a showcase of rock royalty and major screen stars, with The Who's Roger Daltrey playing the title role.
Arcade addicts everywhere received praise for their ability to “sure play a mean pinball” when The Who released their 1975 trippy rock opera film Tommy. The musical was based on the band’s 1969 breakthrough album of the same name, which proved rock ‘n’ roll had infinite possibilities in story telling with their experimental approach to the record. Each song contributes to Tommy’s story in a linear style and were sung again for the film -- only this time, an all-star cast list brought Townshend's lyrics to life.
In the movie, Tommy is a normal kid until a traumatic experience sends him into a life of turmoil. Nora, Tommy’s mother, believes her husband was killed in World War II so she moves on years later and begins a romantic relationship with “Uncle” Frank. Unbeknownst to the family, the husband had survived the war and after catching the new couple in bed together, he tries to murder the boyfriend. Frank ends up murdering him instead in a violent fight. Tommy witnessed the entire scene and is sent into an emotional whirlwind that leaves him deaf, mute, and blind. Despite the loss of his senses, Tommy miraculously puts all of his focus on pinball and becomes a rich world champion while becoming unexplainably healed. Through his achievements, Tommy becomes a cult leader inspiring others to follow him. Although it seemed as if happiness would reign for the remainder of his days, the film ends in continuous tragedy.
Ann-Margret as Nora Walker
Ann-Margret, already an established actress, plays Tommy’s glamorous mother. Although she is more famous as an actress, Ann-Margret was a reasonably successful singer who'd released eight albums in the 1960s. She recorded her entire part in just one eleven hour session. Ann-Margret showcased her tremendous talent in a scene where Nora hallucinates and sees soap, beans, and chocolate coming out of the television. The only instruction she received was to have a nervous breakdown and the rest of her reaction was completely improvised. As she was rolling around in the chocolate, she cut her hand on glass and was rushed to the hospital to get stitches, but returned straight back to work the next day. Her performance earned her the Golden Globe for Best Actress and an Oscar nomination.
Oliver Reed as Uncle Frank
Reed plays Nora’s new boyfriend Frank who becomes like a father to Tommy and helps raise him along with Nora. Since Reed was no singer at all and almost incapable of singing, he experienced serious issues recording his songs. Townshend was very frustrated with the actor and the only way to finish his parts was to record his songs in small bits. Townshend originally only wanted musicians and singers in Tommy, but producer Robert Stigwood convinced him to include Hollywood stars to help sell the movie. When filming ended, Townshend admitted that Reed and the rest of the actors were perfect for their roles.
Roger Daltrey as Tommy
The Who’s lead singer took the title role very seriously and even studied sign language from Hampshire vicar Canon Raymond Young. However, the gesture-song which seems to feature real sign language was only a parody of signs. Age was also not quite accurately portrayed as Daltrey was only three years younger than his on-screen mother Ann-Margret and four years younger than his character’s stepfather Oliver Reed.
Elton John as The Pinball Wizard
Who better to play the outrageous arcade champion in 7-foot high boots than Elton John himself? Rod Stewart was actually set to play the role as he had already acted as the Pinball Wizard in a London musical production of Tommy. When they decided on John, he rejected initially and David Essex was also considered. Stigwood was persistent though and urged John to play the part, and he finally accepted when Stigwood agreed to let John keep the towering Doc Marten boots the Pinball Wizard would be wearing. The boots were so uncomfortable that John asked for a keyboard to be placed in front of him so a crew member set out and bought one at a local shop and added the instrument to the pinball machine.
Tina Turner as The Acid Queen
Tommy’s parents are desperate to cure their son and visit many healers for help, including the Acid Queen who might be able to use LSD for Tommy’s benefit. Originally, the role was going to be played by a man, and David Bowie was considered along with Mick Jagger. Jagger would only take the role if he could play three of his own songs, which The Who were not in favor of. Tina Turner ended up making the perfect hallucinatory royal.
Eric Clapton as The Preacher
Famous rock guitarist and songwriter Eric Clapton entered the screen as The Preacher, the leader of the strange and bizarre Marilyn Monroe cult. Pete Townshend was a close friend to Clapton and made a huge impact on his life. Clapton actually accepted the role as a favor to Townshend, who helped him overcome his heroin addiction.
Jack Nicholson as The Specialist/Dr. A Quackson
Jack Nicholson was already a star, not for music like many of his co-stars, but for his previous work in film. He made a name for himself as the cool bad boy in the 1969 biker film Easy Rider, and a few months after Tommy’s release he would captivate audiences with his Oscar-winning performance in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Nicholson’s involvement in Tommy was a stroke of luck as director Ken Russell had cast Christopher Lee as the doctor. Lee was stuck in Bangkok, Thailand, filming for the James Bond movie The Man With The Golden Gun, so Nicholson filled in at the last second. Russell’s directions to the actor were simply to, “just come down the pike and look beautiful.” Although Nicholson was not known as a singer, the cast and crew were very impressed. Townshend was worried at first because of what happened with Reed’s lack of singing ability, but Nicholson knew what he was doing. He had actually previously sang in the movie On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, but his song was cut from the final product.
Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon as Themselves
During Pinball Wizard, the rest of the band that included guitarist Pete Townshend, bassist John Entwistle, and drummer Keith Moon performed the song live with Elton John. The song was actually played to a real audience in a theater and the fans who rushed to the stage at the end of the scene were not scripted; it was purely a result of sheer joy and excitement.
Arthur Brown as The Priest
Arthur Brown plays The Preacher’s loony assistant and sings one verse in The Preacher’s song "Christmas," but it was cut from the soundtrack. Brown was the lead singer of the eccentrically experimental band The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, formed in 1967. His unconventional and oddball nature already made him the perfect madman assistant.
Tags: Ann-Margret | Elton John | Eric Clapton | Jack Nicholson | Oliver Reed | Pete Townshend | Roger Daltrey | The Who | Tina Turner | Tommy
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