Ken Russell’s 1975 version of the Who’s rock opera is full of the over-the-top visual style he was known for, but no more so ithan in the scene where Ann-Margret (as Tommy’s mother) watches her son on TV and hallucinates that the screen spews forth a stream of commercial products (baked beans, chocolate, detergent suds) into her room. The sight of Ann-Margret singing her heart out (the song “Champagne” was composed specifically for the film) while rolling around in a sea of beans and other effluvia is a weirdly sensual, hilarious, disgusting sequence to which words don’t do justice.
Russell’s inspiration was some commercial’s he’d shot early in his career, though Who fans also saw in it a reference to the group’s 1967 concept album The Who Sell Out, which features a parody ad for Heinz Baked Beans and a cover photo of singer Roger Daltrey sitting in a bathtub full of baked beans. According to Russell, the number took three days to film. He said the actress’ husband objected to the scene, but she threw herself into it, so hard that she slashed her hand on the broken glass of the TV screen. Russell took her to the hospital to stitch up the wound, but she returned to the set the next day. For her trouble, Ann-Margret earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination, though she lost to Louise Fletcher from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – proving that swimming in a pool of beans wasn’t even the craziest thing an actress could do that year.