FILMS… The Ballad of Tam Lin / The Devil’s Widow (1970)



Ava Gardner has you under her spell as she gathers a toyboy and a young entourage for a devilishly delightful ride into horror…


The 1970s chilling adaptation of Scottish poet and lyricist, Robert Burns’ Tam Lin from actor turned director, Roddy McDowall.


Tam Lin (1970) Original Trailer [HD], HD Retro Trailers


The 1970s revamped, rebooted and remade more than a few classic books into some exciting new visions in contemporary films. Joseph Conrad’s book The Heart of Darkness (1899) was updated to become Francis Ford Coppola’s epic movie, Apocalypse Now (1979). Helmut Berger starred as the titular lead in the sexy but chilling reboot Dorian Gray / The Secret of Dorian Gray (1970) which was derived from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). Even Christopher Lee as Dracula (1897) dug a new unique storyline in Dracula 1972 A.D. (1972).

One of the more obscure film adaptations was based on a Scottish fable, Tam Lin. This fable started its many adaptations in the 16th Century. In the 1770s, Tam Lin was made into a song with lyrics written by the famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns. Then around 200 years later after the director, Roddy McDowall wanted to make a tribute to its leading lady, Ava Gardner, this song’s content was adapted into a horror romance film, The Ballad of Tam Lin (1970).

The Scottish fable tells of Tam Lin, a young man who incurs the wrath of the Queen of the Fairies after he falls for a young virgin. He then plans to leave the Queen for this younger woman. But you’ll find that there is a lot more to this chilling and eerie story, in screenwriter William Spier’s faithful adaptation of this story which continues with more spooky happenings.

After a young man plays a sax, the film story has young Tom Lynn (Ian McShane) snuggled up in a huge bed with Michaela “Micky” Cazaret (Ava Gardner), his lover. He tells her that loves her. She loves him but says she feels her age (not that you’d notice as Ava is super gorgeous). Tom reassures her as he thinks she gets more beautiful every day. She ominously tells him “she will love him or leave him for dead.” and they kiss passionately.

Micky is a rich, and generous woman who invites beautiful young people to live with her. This is on the condition that they do as they please and only live with her until she tires of them or until they move on. After breakfast, she is approached by a young man who she dismisses, he’s clearly upset at this and he joins Rose (Sinead Cusack) and the sax player seen before the opening credits.

After Tom takes photos, she, Tom and her beautiful entourage of seventies studs and starlets leave in a succession of cars. They then take the motorway from London to Micky’s Scottish stately home – and somehow make this more glamorous than it sounds – to the funky opening tune and film credits.

The next day, they are visited by the prim, vicar’s daughter Janet (Stephanie Beacham) as she brings a puppy for one of Micky’s guests. Janet is immediately attracted to this transfixing scene of young and beautiful decadence. She immediately spots Tom and is transfixed by him. This is as he plays frisbee – in slow motion – with some stunning people. After Janet catches the frisbee, he smiles at her as he collects it from her. But she seems nervous and searching for a response, and he does too. Janet gets more flustered around him and she drops the frisbee.

Tom takes more photos of the group, particularly of Janet. A young woman asks Janet to pick a tarot card, and she picks The Lovers. This woman tells her means an ordeal is overcome. Janet is not happy giving the puppy to Sue (Madeline Smith) as she childishly squeals at the “doggy”, as Janet believes Sue is on drugs.

Micky appears – with her assistant Elroy (Richard Wattis) and they meet Janet. Micky reassures Janet about the puppy and asks Elroy to pay for the dog. On meeting Elroy, he is cryptically scornful towards Janet, calling her a “silly little girl” and telling her that she’s lost her chance.

Janet talks to her father, Julian Ainsley (Cyril Cusack), the local vicar about her captivating experience with Micky. Janet believes Micky to be an enigmatic, goddess-like figure and she believes that she could give her something she needed, but can’t remember what.

Meanwhile, a young man is pining for Micky. He believes he can’t live without her and she is moved by his words. But she tells him in a roundabout way that he’s been replaced by Tom. And that he can now leave, to live or die… Micky is more preoccupied with where Tom has gone.

Tom is developing his photographs, and Caroline (Jenny Hanley) tells him Micky’s looking for him. After he meets with Micky, she asks him if he likes it there and where he’ll be when she’s old. Then she shakes off her fears and confidently takes him to bed with a bottle of champagne.

The next day, Tom is out wandering in the nearby countryside and he meets Janet. In a succession of photos – seen as a montage – they see each other, and then after some uncertainty, they kiss passionately. This snogging couple is observed by Elroy. After Michaela meets Tom, she instinctively knows that he’s strayed, eerily saying she can taste Janet on his lips. She then pricks Tom’s finger and has him swear he’ll not leave her.

Scenes get much darker and more frightening as then Elroy warns Tom of the fate of Micky’s other former lovers. Elroy warns him that they died young in mysterious car accidents, and he has the photos to prove it… this heavily implies the same could happen to Tom, should he stray. Janet finds out she is pregnant, after her meeting with Tom and seeks help from a local woman, Miss Gibson (Fabia Drake) to get an abortion. Tom tells Micky he wants to end things with her, and Micky gives him a chilling ultimatum…

This work of Burns was brilliantly, creatively and accurately adapted for this British film. It was filmed in the Scottish Borders, Edinburgh and London. In a nice touch, the Scottish scenes were recreated in and around Peebles, in the Scottish borders where the story originated. The grounds of Traquair House were used as Micky’s Scottish home are seen in the frisbee scene and the interiors were filmed at Pinewood. These locations and the house are seen in some stunning cinematography, both with and without the cast.

McDowall’s film is intricately adapted and sticks faithfully to both the themes and darkness of the original tale. This update to the story gives this Scottish fable a funky and chic ominous narrative that convinces in its storytelling. Little appropriate props  – such as the initial black and white etchings of the story in the film prologue -, motifs found in the fable such as the two headed rose, and statues depicting the story – and appropriate musical are effortlessly added to the storytelling,

This Scottish part of the story begins with an initial chilling narration. This is from an unknown Scottish accented narrator as the entourage arrives at Hadrian’s Wall, at the Scottish-English border after the opening titles. The narration tells how a young man (Tom Lynn) was enthralled by the Queen (Micky) of the fairies (Micky’s entourage). And more eerily that the Queen of the fairies is a “dangerous woman”.

I found the film captivating from the credits, with 1970s folk band, (The) Pentangle’s opening tune, The Best Part of You ringing through my ears. Later the Burns’ Tam Lin lyrics were covered by the same group and their haunting tune added to the eerie Scottish ambience that overhangs the film. The mood in scenes was conveyed in all manners, in an appropriate telling jazz musical score by Stanley Myers. This score added much to the non-spoken scenes of glamorously transfixing shots of the leads, in silent scenes where the plot was conveyed in actions.

The whole cast stuck to their own English accents, which I found pleasing. This added to the plot, as these 1970s London trendies took a retreat to Scotland. Beacham and Cusack also kept to their own accents. The stunning cast was perfectly chosen and their breathtaking beauty complemented each other well. With three Bond girls, Madeline Smith, Jenny Hanley and Joanna Lumley and a variety of gorgeous 70s hunks with Beatles haircuts and suits, their gorgeous looks made their scenes seem unreal, and out worldly.

An ethereal Ava Gardner swans in and out of scenes in some long flowing gorgeous frocks designed by Beatrice Dawson. These were executed by the Balmain fashion house. Ava is always stunning in every scene and these elegant, classical frocks easily complement this actress. They easily emphasise her majestic role, as Micky. These combined with Gardner’s husky voice and beauty make her credible in this enigmatic character.

Gardner is more than convincing in this role where her older but sexy character seduces young men but then falls in love. This film’s cinematography really tributes her beauty well, and in her character, she beautifully captured Micky’s strengths and vulnerabilities. Her strengths are seen in her scene where young Janet seems in awe and under her spell and in many later scenes.

Her vulnerability was seen in the scene where she asks Tom if she looks old, and for a moment she’s vulnerable and she seems to look for reassurance. This unconfidence in her relationship is also seen in a nightclub, as she spends her final night with McShane’s Tom. Although no words are shared between them, you feel strong empathy as you feel and watch her hurt and pain, this is conveyed and seen through her eyes. Her eyes appear concerned and fearful as if she is searching for a way to bring him back to love her again, but she knows she’s lost him.

Stephanie Beacham – in this only her second Hollywood film – spoke fondly of Gardner HERE. She stated;

Ava arrived in a chauffeur-driven limousine, like royalty, with her corgis, a gramophone and a box of Frank Sinatra records. She was a lovely person to work with; she mentored me and I was hungry to learn.

The Ava Gardner Museum also writes a lengthy article on the lifelong friendship between the director and his muse, Ava Gardner. These writers add a quote from Ava: My Story,  Ava Gardner’s biography where director Roddy McDowall relates to the making of this film. He states;

It was not a successful movie, by any manner of means, but her performance is remarkable and dead-on. Ava was one of the most perfect screen actresses I’ve ever encountered because she had a childlike concentration, which is wildly important.

Stephanie Beacham was her debut year in Hollywood movies. She gave a demure innocence to her sweet character. She was convincing as she blossomed from a girl uncertain of her feelings into a strong and supportive love interest. McShane has never been so charming, in his first scenes with Gardner, you felt his adoration for her and this feeling appears to wane as his character meets Janet. He then showed his character more distant from Micky, as befitting the plot. You felt he was distracted with his thoughts of Janet, where his chemistry was at first tentative and then more like a young man in love.

This film was directed by Roddy McDowall. McDowall was the actor and star of my reviews of McMillan and Wife (1973), Fantasy Island (1981), and more notably The Poseidon Adventure (1972). He’s not the only film and TV star turned one-time director. Charles Laughton – the star of The Paradine Case (1947) –  directed Night of the Hunter (1955).

Now I am going night of the hunter too, to find those more obscure one-off directing actors and actresses for the movies. But, as for you, I compel you to discover this groovy film out for yourself. It’s one where McDowell should have collected much more praise, for his fabulous film adaptation. This sadly for him was just a one-film wonder in the director’s chair, where you will find Ava Gardner’s Micky is mad about her toyboy.


Weeper Rating  😦😦 😦😦😦/10

Handsqueeze Rating 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10

Hulk Rating: ‎ mrgreen‎ mrgreen/10


2nd Annual Spooky Classic Movie Blogathon No 32

This review was added to Hoofers and Honeys of the Classic Movie Era / KN Winiarski Writes’ 2nd Annual Spooky Classic Movie Blogathon. Director Roddy McDowall starred in Fantasy Island, McMillan and Wife and The Poseidon Adventure. Ava Gardner in The Kidnapping of the President, The Cassandra CrossingKnots Landing and Earthquake.  Cyril Cusack in Harold and Maude. Fabia Drake in A Room with a View. Ian McShane in Five of his TV and Movies HERE and the John Wick movies in parts 1, 2, and 3. Jenny Hanley and Joanna Lumley in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Madeline Smith in two roles in All Creatures Great and Small, Sinead Cusack in my post about Great Britons of Stage and Screen: In Conversation by Barbara Roisman Cooper. Stephanie Beacham in Dracula AD 1972 and The Colbys. Richard Wattis in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

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