THE BALLAD OF TAM LIN aka THE DEVIL’S WIDOW (1970) Reviews and worth watching

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‘She drained them of their manhood… and then – of their lives!’
The Ballad of Tam Lin – aka Tam Lin and The Devil’s Widow – is a 1970 British fantasy feature film directed by Roddy McDowall and produced by Alan Ladd, Jr. and Stanley Mann, from a screenplay by William Spier based on Robert Burns’ poem The Ballad of Tam Lin.


The movie was made by Commonwealth United Entertainment, Winkast Film Productions Ltd. and distributed by American International Pictures (AIP).

The film’s score was composed by Stanley Myers and folk band Pentangle and it was photographed by Billy Williams.

tan lin

The film stars Ava Gardner and Ian McShane with Richard Wattis, Cyril Cusack, Stephanie Beacham, Sinéad Cusack and Joanna Lumley.


McDowall’s direction of this film precluded him reprising his role as Cornelius in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the only one of the original five Planet of the Apes films from which he is absent.

Tam Lin

Using an ancient Scottish folk song, an older woman uses witchcraft to keep her young jet-set friends in her power…

“The entire film is rather dreamlike, from virtually the first moment, where Mickey and Tom relax in afterglow, but she can’t help telling him she wants to kill him (how’s that for a little black widow post-coital chit chat?) […] McDowall crafts a visceral mood of a reverie that slowly but surely turns into a nightmare in the form of that most dreaded of late sixties and early seventies phenomena, the bad trip.”

“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…” DVD Talk183600.1020.A

” …The Ballad of Tam Lin is a folk-horror masterpiece. McDowall exhibits a firm grasp on credibly establishing a pastoral, ecumenical mood, then injecting it with hallucinogens […] Earlier touches are comparatively simplistic, yet no less gratifying, like bathing the viewer’s POV in a golden yellow when either lead slips on color-tinted sunglasses. While McShane is great as the protagonist who doesn’t quite start as such, the picture belongs to Gardner.” Flick Attack

“McDowall builds a broodingly enigmatic sense of menace out of stray allusions and apparitions that hover without ever really being explained or over-exploited: the snatches of [Robert] Burns intimating the presence of diabolic machinations; the girl terrified by her own unspoken Tarot prophecies; the dialogue that rings like blank verse, as though it had been used over and over again. Above all, though, this menace is effective chiefly because it is rhymed with a mounting sense of quiet decorum, as though reality, the world of the ordinary, everyday banality, were suddenly present to Tom for the first time.” Tom Milne, Monthly Film Bulletin, June 1977

“The disappointment is that it remains a resolutely mundane film until the very end. Even then it is only in the final shot as McDowall goes in for a closeup on Ava Gardner’s face accompanied by a song on the soundtrack that comes with lyrics about her being the Queen of Fairies, plus end credits that list the extras as members of a coven, that give the film a fantastical reading…” Richard Scheib, Moria

183601.1020.A“A languid, hallucinatory gem, and the only film to have been directed by Mr. Roddy McDowall […] deserves to be seen, for a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of young Brit starlets, endless bon mots and waspish dialogue, and a thrilling horror/chase climax every bit the equal of the flight of the children in Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter. Darrell Buxton, The Spinning Image

183602.1020.A“This, it must be noted, is possibly the most extravagantly camp film ever attempted from within the celluloid closet. None of the characters is gay, no same-sex action is performed or even hinted at, but the entirety of the production is perfumed in Wildean fantasy, hyped up with a particularly arch form of chi-chi Gothic aestheticism, intensified to hysteria by the colored lenses and fey folk-rock of the period.” David Cairns, The Auteurs

183603.1020.A“Using the malevolent mood of a drunken party-prank gone wrong, the film speeds towards a conclusion which toys with horror-film conventions. In this interpretation a caravan by the Forth Bridge, a fleet of sports cars and a deadly dose of hallucinogenics feature as iconic plot devices. Richard Wattis is a memorably creepy supporting Queen as the waspish Secretary Elroy whilst a sympathetic Cyril Cusack plays Janet’s pastor-father.” From Between the Cracks





Digital release:

Olive Films released Tam Lin on Blu-ray on September 24, 2013.


Censorship body the BBFC required cuts (there are no details) in order to award an ‘X’ certificate on 10/03/1970. When the film was resubmitted as The Devil’s Widow in 1977 it was awarded a ‘AA’ certificate (National Telefilms Assoc Inc, classified on 09/03/1977).

Cast and characters:
Ava Gardner … Michaela Cazaret
Ian McShane … Tom Lynn
Richard Wattis … Elroy
Cyril Cusack … Vicar Julian Ainsley
Stephanie Beacham … Janet Ainsley
David Whitman … Oliver
Fabia Drake … Miss Gibson
Sinéad Cusack … Rose
Joanna Lumley … Georgia
Jenny Hanley … Caroline
Madeline Smith … Sue
Bruce Robinson … Alan
Victoria Fairbrother … Vanna
Rosemary Blake … Kate
Michael Bills … Michael
Virginia Tingwell … Lottie
Peter Hinwood … Guy
Hayward Morse … Andy
Julian Barnes … Terry
Norman Oliver … Peter
Salena Jones … Herself
Jannice Dinnen … Second Coven
Andrew Grant … Second Coven
Don Hawkins … Second Coven
Delia Lindsay … Second Coven
Linda Marlowe … Second Coven
Michael Mundell … Second Coven
Yvonne Quenet … Second Coven
Erika Raffael … Second Coven
Jocelyne Sbath … Second Coven
Christopher Williams … Second Coven
Jimmy Winston … Second Coven
John Bawden … Kip

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