Tuesday 11 October 2022

The Ballad of Tam Lin (1971)


One of the most fascinating fantasy/horror films of the early 1970s finally gets a Blu-ray release in the country where it was made, courtesy of the BFI's Flipside label.

An adaptation of an ancient folk tale that's essentially about the rescue of the title character from the Queen of the Fairies by a mortal woman, this version stars Ian McShane as Tam / Tom, Ava Gardner as Michaela Cazaret (the Queen) and Stephanie Beacham as Janet, made pregnant by Tom and the one who eventually rescues him from Michaela and her murderous coven through the power of true love.

The only film to be directed by Hollywood star Roddy McDowall (and on the basis of this it's a great shame he didn't make more), THE BALLAD OF TAM LIN was shot in 1969 in London and Scottish locations but didn't see cinema screens until 1972 in a vastly re-edited and truncated version in the US, and not until even later in the UK. All of these details and more are covered in the excellent commentary track on the BFI's disc from William Fowler and Vic Pratt.

It's a film that belongs to a very special sub-sub genre of British horror films made by individuals from outside the UK who are able to bring a unique eye to the landscape. These include Jorge Grau's THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE and Jose Larraz's VAMPYRES (both 1974). McDowall's film is as mystical and strange and beautiful as both of those and, coupled with the songs by The Pentangle and excellent performances, THE BALLAD OF TAM LIN a fascinating one of a kind watch.

As well as the commentary, the BFI's Blu-ray ports over a couple of the other extras from the recent Imprint Blu-ray release (but by no means all). These consist of interviews with McShane (11 minutes) and Beacham (10 minutes), an 11 minute David Del Valle piece and the archival Legendary Ladies of the Silver Screen in which Roddy himself gets to wax lyrical about Ava Gardner.

New extras unique to the BFI release include Listening In, a 27 minute interview with Jacqui McShee, lead singer of The Pentangle, who discusses her career and the writing of the songs for the film. The music extras continue with an excellent 20 minute interview with Hans Zimmer talking about his association with composer Stanley Myers. It plays as an audio track accompanying the film and comes to an end just in time to segue into one of the romantic cues of which Mr Myers was apparently so fond of writing.

Adventures Along the Way is just over half an hour of Madeline Smith reminiscing about her part in the film, the luxurious hotel they all stayed in in Peebles and her encounters with Sean Connery amongst others.  Finally we get some short films. RED RED? RED (1971) is 34 minutes documenting a hippy commune in Devon, and we also get two Border County docu-shorts - O'ER HIL AND DALE and QUEEN O' THE BORDER.

The bottom line: If you're a TAM LIN enthusiast like I am you'll already own the recent Australian Imprint Blu-ray. But there's enough new material on the BFI's disc with specific relevance to the movie that this new release is going to be an essential purchase as well.

Roddy McDowall's THE BALLAD OF TAM LIN is out on Blu-ray on the BFI Flipside label from Monday 10th October 2022

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