Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The lost TAM LIN movie

One should be a fan of British cinema, retro pop culture, fantasy/ folklore, and personal auteurship for maximum enjoyment of this likeable but format-challenged film from the late 1960's/early 70's. I sure am, and as such quite savored this cinematic retelling of the Tam Lin ballad, that ancient tale of role reversal with the fair maiden having to save the dude in distress, rare then as now. It's sufficiently enjoyable that I immediately transferred its only available format, VHS videotape to dvd for repeated future viewings. One suspects it had been slated for same, what with its 17 minute director's introduction, but remained lost in the ectoplasm of Republic Pictures' post-demise assorted distribution deals. One further suspects that its release under of aegis of an Ava Gardner tribute series was the ticket for its seeing light of day at all post theatrical debut. It's been written that Roddy McDowell lost control of this, his only directed film, with it subsequently languishing in drive-ins of the 1970's under such noms-du-exploitation as "The Devil's Widow!" (lurid poster at bottom.)
As McDowell's sole direction job, this is a movie one ever so wants to be as good as Charles Laughton's similar solo effort "Night of the Hunter," which it isn't and cannot be, as few films can match "Hunter's" expert, mannerist weirdness. McDowell's is a B+ to Laughton's A+. What it does share is the quirkiness of a singular vision, seeming unlike anything else of its respective era while still conforming to mainstream requisites, and the retelling of a dreamy but occasionally frightening fairy tale in modern clothes, with assorted decidedly odd touches. A true loss to cinema that both actors never directed another film. Simply put, it's the Ballad of Tam Lin (its original title in fact) retold with late '60's characters, and peopled with a cast of still working, familiar British names like "Deadwood's" Ian McShane (representing the titular captured knight Tam Lin,) Stephanie Beacham (the Hammer horror ingenue,) here as the ballad's brave, resourceful and knocked up Janet, "AbFab's" Joanna Lumley as one of dozens of young sybarites with both Cyril and Sinead Cusack in tow. Ava Gardner as the controlling "Faerie Queen" seems an apt focus of the swirling debaucheries and cruelties rationalized as group activity fun. This, strangely, isn't so much part of the fantasy as modern viewers might conclude: some of us who were adolescents in the '60's remember the genuine, wealthy older types lending their mansions to us young'uns in order to share in their decadent fun, whether vicariously or actively.In "Tam Lin" you'll find a little seen but quite good updated fairy story, plus amusing music from live jazz to the Pentangle, great late 1960s/early 70s fashion forward costuming, retro period fun, gorgeous Scottish border scenery and an always great to watch cast. Time for whoever owns Republic this week to fund that dvd or streaming release. 
 ~~~NEWS ALERT 2015: it has been released on Blu-ray!~~~
  Lurid much?

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