Wednesday, October 9, 2013

"The Devil's Widow" aka "The Ballad of Tam Lin" Released On Blu-ray

How did I miss this release at the end of September??

Despite being one of those obscure films only Tam Lin fanatics (yes, I'm one of them) and fairy tale folk well versed in film (and possibly die-hard Ava Gardner fans) know about, The Devil's Widow has had enough studio backing to make it to Blu-ray. It's a film that ended up with a couple of titles (not always a good sign) and it's interesting to see that this time around Tam Lin made it on top. When it was released on VHS you had to ask for it by it's more provocative title, The Devil's Widow. (I'm definitely considering getting a copy - my VHS copy is really difficult to sit through, let alone find a player to play it on these days.)

The reviews are more favorable than I've seen about the film in the past. Perhaps the transfer has helped the filmmaking and subtlety of the performances shine (yes, there is subtlety, despite the drug-induced modern-faerie psychedelia!), although it IS a pretty odd film - definitely a product of the experimental '60's (it was originally released in 1970).

With Ava Gardner playing a decadent and aging-despite-herself (faerie) queen, Ian McShane playing the under-the-influence Tam Lin role and Stephanie Beacham (known primarily for her Dynasty role/s and partnering Marlon Brando) playing Janet's role it's an interesting lens on the time period with a psychadelia-meets-fae twist, but the tale is definitely recognizable. This version is told more from Tam Lin (Tom Lynn) in this film and deals with his coming to grips with his... "situation".

It's not a version of Tam Lin that I like very much (and easy to dismiss as a cheesy B movie) but what Ava Gardner does with the possessive faerie queen character is fascinating and she gives a rarely seen, almost personal, exploration of that archetype - just like an inevitable force that can't truly be stopped, like nature, despite herself at times.

The pulp-meets-trippy design of the cover is a good clue to the overall sensibility of this film. It's definitely not for everyone (I wouldn't watch it if it weren't for the Tam Lin connection), but if you, like me, cannot get enough of the fairy tale ballad and haven't seen this, it's worth renting for a once through.

Here's an excerpt from DVD talk:
1970's Tam Lin (or if you prefer The Ballad Of Tam Lin or The Devil's Window) has no shortage of curiosity value, given that it's the one and only feature film directed by prolific actor Roddy McDowell.  
The story itself is based on an old Scottish folk tale, McShane plays Tom Lynn, a young man who gets involved with a wealthy and possessive older woman named Michaela Cazaret (Ava Gardner), who has a habit of surrounding herself with young adults so that she in turn will retain her youthful vigor... 

Definitely a product of its time, Tam Lin is nevertheless a pretty interesting movie even if it does get off to a bit of a slow start. On the surface, the tension wouldn't seem to mount until the last half hour or so but pay attention to the early scenes of partying and note some of the more vitriolic dialogue that works its way into these moments. There foreshadowing of the darkness to come is definitely there, and it's often times delivered in clever and effective ways by the cast members. As Michaela and her ensemble indulge themselves we're treated to a look at the counter culture movement of the era through some decidedly non-rose tinted glasses. These are spoiled children playing with an equally spoiled benefactor who is using them for her own needs with no concern as to what happens to them. They are her toys, and Tom is the one she likes best. 
Performances are very good here. Ian McShane is a good lead, he's not the foul mouthed villain it's so easy to see him as these days but instead a reasonably dashing and charming young man, making it easy to see why an older woman might take interest in him. Ava Gardner is the real star here, however. She's pretty diabolical in her methods, particularly once Tom has crossed her and she decides to take action against him for it... 
By the time the movie ends, McDowell has taken us into some expectedly dark and deliriously psychedelic territory. The movie doesn't necessarily end the way that you think it's going to and it turns out to be a rather strange, although very deliberate film. Some pacing issues aside, this is a pretty interesting curio, a mix of genres skewed through a singular vision intend on updating a story spawned from his own heritage to a modern audience not necessarily aware of the direction in which they were heading. This makes Tam Lin a smarter film than it might at first seem, and in turn makes it all the more worthwhile.
Here's the closest thing I can find to a trailer for it on YouTube:

I'm a little grumped there are no extra features on the Blu-ray - not even behind-the-scenes photos or marked up script pages. I hope they include the Roddy McDowell's intro that was on my VHS copy. It would have been nice to get some additional insight into the research and writing of the movie as part of the new package but... oh well. A decent copy to watch makes it a lot easier to see the Director's subtleties and intent. I'm curious if I will like it any better when I see it next. 

If you'd like a copy of your own, you can buy it HERE.

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