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. Given that it also features a young Ian McShane long before he's blows mind as Al Swearengen in Deadwood (even before Lovejoy) and the lovely Ava Gardner in the lead roles and it's easy to see why film buffs would be anxious for a chance to get to see this one. Given the fact that it hardly lit the box office on fire, however, it languished in obscurity over the years but now, surprisingly enough, gets a Blu-ray release from those big studio back catalogue releasing gurus at Olive Films.
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. He and a few others spend a lot of time at her lavish estate where the booze flows freely and leisure and decadence are the order of the day. All of this goes on while her secretary, Elroy (Richard Wattis), makes thinly veiled barbs at those around him but soon enough, Tom's eyes turn away and catch those of Janet Ainsley (Stephanie Beacham), the sexy daughter of Vicar Julian Ainsley (Cyril Cusack). Elroy warns Tom about going too far with this, noting that previous members of Michaela's entourage that have gone astray have might untimely ends, but Tom is young and strong minded and not necessarily inclined to listen.
Things get complicated for Tom when Janet gets pregnant and leaves the small town for Edinburgh to take care of the issue without drawing any unwanted attention to her in doing so. During this period Michaela cleans house, getting rid of the group of young partiers that Tom came in with and replacing them with a fresh new batch. At this point, Tom realizes that Elroy's warnings were not to be taken lightly and he finds himself in a far more dangerous situation than he ever though Michaela capable of creating.
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. Richard Wattis is great in his rather flamboyant supporting role, while a young Stephanie Beacham is beautiful and captivating and we full understand why Tom would fall for her. Look for Joanna Lumley and Madeline Smith in the early part of the movie as part of Michaela‘s merry makers. They're not given nearly as much to do as some of the other cast members but it's interesting to see them pop up.
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.
Tam Lin debuts on Blu-ray from Olive Films in a 2.35.1 widescreen transfer presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. For the most part, the image quality on this transfer is pretty strong. As most will know by this point, Olive Films doesn't really do much in the way of restoration so it's would seem a safe bet then that they had access to some nice quality elements for this release. It's not quite pristine, there are some white specks here and there visible throughout the movie, but outside of that there isn't really any print damage. Grain is present as it should be and there's no evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement. Color reproduction looks good and while some scenes are definitely on the soft side, it would seem that they were shot this way. All in all, this is a very nice picture.
The English language DTS-HD Mono Audio track on the disc isn't going to stand up as home theater demo material but for an older single channel mix it holds up pretty well. There's a little bit of background noise in a couple of scenes if you listen for it, but if you don't, you're not likely to even notice it. The levels are nicely balanced and the score has a surprising amount of depth and range as presented here. Dialogue is always easy to understand as well, which is good as there are no subtitle or closed captioning options here (nor are there any alternate language dubs).
Outside of a static menu and chapter selection, there are no extra features on this disc.
Tam Lin isn't a perfect film but it is a very good one and quite an interesting picture to watch even in its slower stretch in the first half. The direction is good, the visuals impressive and the cast all deliver fine work while the cinematography makes great use of the locations and the film benefits from a solid score. It's easy to see why this might not have found mainstream appeal when first release but time has been surprisingly kind to the picture and the Blu-ray release from Olive Films, sadly barebones, is quite a welcome one. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.