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The Ballad of Tam Lin (1970)
Bar Harbor
This is one of the sub genre that Kestrell refers to as “two islands over from Summerisle”. Like The Wicker Man, it’s a 70s British film that was (mis-)marketed as horror for want of any better category, contains some cool folk music, and has an ambiguous relationship with the supernatural.

Ava Gardner, then 47 years old but still glamorous, plays “Mickey”, an aging billionaire who surrounds herself with a court of young hippies in order to keep herself young. (Literally? Metaphorically? Take your pick.) Her current lover, amateur photographer Tom Lynn, is played by Ian McShane, far younger, handsomer, and less craggy than his recent portrayal of Mister Wednesday. (Digression: while this movie contains no bare breasts, McShane’s shapely bum is handsomely displayed on a few occasions.) Tom is perfectly content in this decadent, dissipated existence – until he happens to meet the vicar’s daughter, Janet (Stephanie Beacham). Tom decides to run away with Janet, even after being warned of the way many of Mickey’s ex-lovers have met with fatal accidents. Mickey eventually accepts his departure – if he will play one final game with her…

As you may have noticed, the plot hews well to the well-known ballad. It continues to do so right up until the end, though how it manages to do so without explicit magic, I will not spoil. (Every so often, in the background music, Pentangle will sing a few verses appropriate to the current action.) Despite this hewing to the classic plot, the movie is very much of its time, often in surprising ways. At one point Janet, having “gotten in trouble” pays a visit to the local wise woman who, these days, gives referrals to a London abortionist without passing any moral judgment.

The film is also a visual feast. Beautiful Scottish countryside, beautiful sets and set decorations, beautiful people, and 70s high fashion which ranges from the beautiful to the astounding. I strained my vocabulary to the limit to describe the clothes of the Fairy Queen, leading Kestrell to conclude that she wanted all of it. Also some interesting directorial choices, such as playing the meeting between Tom and Janet largely as a series of still images with no dialogue.

Speaking of directorial choices, the director of this gem was none other than Roddy McDowall (in between Planet of the Apes films). This was his sole stint behind the camera, and was excellent enough I wish there had been more. Sadly, like Charles Laughton, his initial foray bombed and he never did any more.

It’s got some rough edges and I wouldn’t rate it as an all-time fave, but it’s a very good film that deserves more than the obscurity it has received. If you wish to check it out, it is available on YouTube.

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