WTFW: The Devil’s Widow

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

WTFW: The Devil’s Widow

Tam (or Tamas) Lin is the hero of a legendary ballad originating from the Scottish Borders.  The story revolves around the rescue of Tam Lin by his true love from the Queen of the Fairies.  While this ballad is specific to Scotland, the motif of capturing a person by holding him through all forms of transformation is found throughout Europe in folktales.

Most variants begin with the warning that Tam Lin collects either a possession or the virginity of any maiden who passes through the forest of Carterhaugh.  When a young girl, usually called Janet or Margaret, goes to Carterhaugh and plucks a double rose, Tam appears and asks why she has come without his leave and taken what is his.  She states that she owns Carterhaugh, because her father has given it to her.

In most variants, Janet then goes home and discovers that she is pregnant; some variants pick up the story at this point.  When taxed about her condition, she declares that her baby's father is an elf whom she will not forsake.  In some variants, she is informed of a herb that will induce abortion; in all the variants, when she returns to Carterhaugh and picks a plant, either the same roses as on her earlier visit or the herb, Tam reappears and challenges her action.

She asks him whether he was ever human, either after that reappearance, or in some variants, immediately after their first meeting resulted in her pregnancy.  He reveals that he was a mortal man, who, after falling from his horse, was rescued and captured by the Queen of Fairies.  Every seven years, the fairies give one of their people as a tithe to Hell and Tam fears he will become the tithe that night, which is Hallowe'en.  He is to ride as part of a company of knights, and Janet will recognize him by the white horse upon which he rides and by other signs.  He warns her that the fairies will attempt to make her drop him by turning him into all manner of beasts but that he will do her no harm.  When he is finally turned into a burning coal, she is to throw him into a well, whereupon he will reappear as a naked man and she must hide him.  Janet does as she is asked and wins her knight.  The Queen of Fairies is angry but acknowledges defeat.


The Devil's Widow (1970)

  • Original Title: The Ballad of Tam Lin
  • Genre: Horror
  • Directed: Roddy McDowall
  • Produced:
    • Jerry Gershwin 
    • Denis Holt 
    • Elliott Kastner 
    • Alan Ladd Jr. 
    • Stanley Mann 
    • Anthony B. Unger
    • Henry T. Weinstein
  • Written:
    • Robert Burns (Poem "The Ballad of Tam Lin") 
    • William Spier (Screenplay)
  • Starring: Ava Gardner, Ian McShane, Richard Wattis, Cyril Cusack, Stephanie Beacham
  • Music: Stanley Myers
  • Cinematography: Billy Williams
  • Editing: John Victor-Smith
  • Studio:
    • Commonwealth United Entertainment 
    • Winkast Film Productions
  • Distributed:
    • American International Pictures  
    • Astral Films  
    • International Film Distributors  
    • Olive Films  
    • Republic Pictures Home Video
  • Rated:
  • Release Date:
    • December 1970 (UK) 
    • September 1972 (US)
  • Running Time: 106 minutes
  • Country: United Kingdom
  • Language: English

A newer release of this film (1998) (Republic Pictures Home Video) re-cut the film to be closer to Roddy McDowall's intention.  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.

The wealthy and enchanting Mrs. Michaela Cazaret attempts to delay middle age by surrounding herself with adoring young people, who live decadently at her expense, playing silly games and having no obligations except to please her.  Micky's favorite among her followers is twenty-one-year-old Tom Lynn, whom she has taken as a lover.

Although he expresses love for her, Micky worries about how long his devotion will continue.  At Micky's whim, her entourage travels from her London abode to Carter Hall, a manor house she has bought in the border country of Scotland.  There, in the beautiful countryside, Tom becomes attracted to the vicar's daughter, Janet Ainsley, and they make love.  Their encounters do not remain secret from Micky's intuition, or the many eyes of her followers and the skulking observance of Elroy, who has been her personal secretary and accountant for almost twenty years.  Increasingly repulsed by his idle lifestyle, Tom attends a church service conducted by Janet's father Julian and afterward refuses to return home when he is sent for.  Instead, he, Janet and Lottie, a village child, go on a picnic.  When he returns to Carter Hall, Oliver, one of the followers who envies Tom's position with Micky, taunts him publicly about Janet.  Their interaction comes to blows, prompting Micky to interrupt and order Oliver to stop making trouble or leave.  After beckoning Tom to a private conversation, Elroy first reminds Tom how much he has to lose if he spurns Micky.  When Tom seems unmoved, Elroy tells him about previous young lovers who decided to leave Micky and shows Tom pictures he had taken of the gruesome fatal accidents the men encountered.  Elroy cryptically warns Tom that he is in charge of keeping "all the accounts."  Upon entering the bedroom he shares with Micky, Tom is startled when Micky appears wearing a mask and demands that she stop playing games.  She replies that games and toys are all anyone has to share.  Claiming that she is wasting his life, he declares he wants to leave, but Micky insists that he belongs to her, and then seduces him. 

On another day, when Tom meets with Janet, he is quiet and distracted, wanting to be free of Micky's companionship, yet sensing he cannot.  When Janet logically suggests that Micky cannot kill him for leaving her, Tom, upset, insists that she cannot understand his situation and returns to the house.  Later, Janet realizes she is pregnant and consults good-hearted, older Miss Gibson, who casts horoscopes and has helped other girls in similar predicaments.  Although the woman warns Janet that she will regret having an abortion, she arranges for her to visit a doctor in Edinburgh.  Meanwhile, Tom, without consulting Janet, announces to Micky that he is going away to think, begging her to free him.  Micky agrees to allow him to leave, if he will first spend a romantic evening with her.  However, after a night in the city with Micky that ends at a nightclub, Tom prepares to leave and Micky angrily tells him that he has one week before she hunts him down and kills him.

After returning to Carter Hall alone, she orders the young people away and tells Elroy to find her new people with whom to play.  Soon after, Oliver tries to replace Tom in Micky's esteem and is told that he must earn the "glittering prize."  Two days later, Janet arrives looking for Tom, and Micky manipulates her into admitting that she is pregnant and ambiguously suggests that she might help her.  Later, seeing no other option, Janet proceeds to the doctor's office to have the operation.  At the door, she is met by Tom, who has arrived prompted by an unsigned postcard, presumably from Micky, telling him about Janet's condition.  Tom takes Janet to a riverside trailer where he is now living.  One week after the day he left Micky he spots Elroy lurking nearby and realizes he is in danger.  Hastily, he decides they must go to London and tells the confused Janet that he loves her, but that she must hold on to him.  However, before they can get away, Tom is abducted by Elroy, Oliver and their cohorts and taken to Carter Hall.  Accepting his doom, Tom tells Micky she can arrange for his death but cannot control his feelings.  Promising to give him an "outside" chance of surviving, Micky convinces Tom to drink from a drugged goblet.  Oliver then announces to the group that they will play a party game, in which he will be the murderer and Tom the victim.

As the drug begins to take effect, sounds and sights become distorted for Tom.  He tries to get away, but is toyed with by the group, until he falls down the stairs.  When Oliver announces he is dead from a broken neck, Micky orders Elroy to bring him back to life and, at Elroy's touch, Tom awakens.  Given a three-minute lead to drive away before the others come after him, Tom stumbles out of the house, where Janet, who has just arrived, gets in the car with him.  Under the influence of the drugs, Tom drives wildly until he swerves off the road and abandons the car, running.  In his drug-induced state, he imagines that he is fighting with a bear, but Janet comes to his rescue.

Breaking free of her, he runs to a lake, where he hallucinates that a cobra is twisting around him, but again, Janet's arrival causes the vision to recede.  Still out of his senses, he runs off, believing that he is burning alive, despite the water around him.  Janet catches up and holds him.  Micky, Elroy and Oliver approach, but before Micky orders the group to kill Tom, Oliver intervenes.  Claiming that their plan failed and that "it is over," Oliver convinces Micky and the others to abandon their game and leave, after which Tom begins to regain his senses.  Later, as the group jets to some new destination, Oliver, who is now Micky's lover, confirms with her that she still has plenty of money.

Now if you paid attention to the summary of the legend you’ll notice that other than names the movie is nothing like the story at all, and that is why I chose it for WTF Wednesday.

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