I had never heard of this obscure 1970 film until I read someone else’s review of it last fall. I was so intrigued by the description that I sought my own DVD copy to watch. As the narrator explains early on:
“There is a story in verse that belongs to this part of the country, the border of England and Scotland. It is hundreds of years old. It tells the adventures of a young man held in thrall by the Queen of the Faeries… A dangerous lady. It is called the Ballad of Tam Lin.”
The film retells this old folk ballad in a modern setting. It is Roddy McDowall’s only film as a director (It was his work on this that kept him from playing Cornelius in Beneath the Planet of the Apes).
The film begins with a young black man in cool-cat 1960s clothes playing a sultry sax while sitting in the front hall of a grand London townhouse on a staircase beneath a crystal chandelier. He’s seen through a glass panel with frosted images painted on it which depict people wearing medieval clothes and enacting key scenes from the old ballad–and also showing us the plot of the story we’re about to see.
The camera then takes us upstairs past the chandelier and into a vast white bedroom containing a vast white bed. Two naked people recline beneath the sheets, Tom Lynn (Ian McShane) and Michaela “Mickey” Cazaret (Ava Gardner). They have the following post-coital conversation:
Tom: “I love you.”
Mickey: “I’m immensely old.”
Tom: “It doesn’t matter.”
Mickey: “It doesn’t matter to you. You grow older every year. I grow older every sordid second.”
He insists again that it doesn’t matter. She grows more beautiful with age.
She responds, “I love you…. I will love you and leave you for dead.”
He should be paying more attention to her side of the conversation, but he’s too young and besotted. Instead, he kisses her, and they go at it again.