T H E O T H E R (1972)

GOTHIC HEARTLAND
This film holds up very well in the decades since its release. It was filmed boldly in color, and yet director Robert Mulligan still maintained the "feel" of the Depression in 1935 Connecticut. This was a world he perfected in 1962 with his classic film, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. The script by Tom Tryon, based on his own novel, was clever and fraught with challenges for the minds and hearts of the viewers.

Twins Chris and Martin Udvarnoky were perfectly cast as twins Niles and Holland Perry. They had been discovered doing plays for Herbert Berghof, who just happened to be married to Uta Hagen. This movie was the only film work the twins ever did. They just seemed to drop out of sight afterwards, heightening the reality of their performances. In 1972, when I first viewed the film in a theatre, I bought the extant "twins" premise. It was skillfully handled visually by director Mulligan. I was strung along until midway, when Uta Hagen, playing the grandmother Ada Perry, revealed to the young Niles that his "bad" brother, Holland, had been dead for a year.

The movie worked on two levels successfully. There was a sun-kissed rural 1930's heartland, a kid's woodland paradise, on the one hand; great spans of forest and field, old barns, and dark mysterious cellars. Juxtaposed to that, overlapping and intermeshing with that, we discovered a Gothic plot; complete with a doomed family haunted by dark psychic powers; whose family crest was a peregrine falcon, emblazoned on an heirloom ring, and on the creaking weathervane high atop the Victorian style house. Murder stalked the Perry farm, and spread out to the neighbors; murder and death, seemingly by accident; murder disguised as accident.

Niles: People always call it a hawk. But it's not. It's a peregrine falcon. Peregrine for Perry. Holland?
Holland: What?
Niles: It now is my ring, isn't it? You gave it to me, didn't you?
Holland: Cripes sake, yes. It was father's, and then it came to me. I was the oldest.
Niles: Only by two minutes.
Holland: And then I gave it to you. Now would you forget about the ring?


Mulligan orchestrated wonderful and touching scenes between Uta Hagen as Ada, and young Chris as Niles...loving moments whereby a blue-eyed angelic tow-headed child adored his wise and spiritually advanced grandmother. Much was made of the special psychic game that they played.

Niles: Ada, can I be something else today? Bigger than a flower. Please? Let's play the game...the GREAT game!
Ada: The great game is it?
Niles: Please? Please?
Ada: Very well then, Doushka. The great game it shall be!

Niles could project his mind, perhaps even his essence, into things and into others; guessing the sex of his sisters's unborn child,

Niles: It's not going to be a boy, it's gonna be a girl. I told ya!
Rider: I know you told me, but you don't say how you know!
Torrie: He knows. Last year on Mother's birthday, he predicted a storm, and what did we get"
Niles: Hail !

and he could even project into a crow, and was able to cognizantly fly free over the farmlands cawing greetings to all those it recognized. This was a game that Niles was so adept at, had perfected so well, that he had no difficulty dealing with his own split personality, and embracing a form of complete denial as to his brother's death, and even further denial of his own responsiblity for conducting divers heinous acts in the guize of, or as Holland. So Niles never had to be alone, would not accept being alone.

Niles: What's the last thing you'd like to see before you die?
Holland: The last thing?
Niles: I mean, if there was one very last thing you could wish to see before you die, what would it be?
Holland: Listen, if I was dying, I'd be too busy doing just that. And so would you!
A moment later.
Holland: Who are you?
Niles: Me. I'm me? Niles Perry!
Holland: Are you? Are you sure?

Diana Muldaur, as the mother Alexandra, was simply wonderful as the archetypical Gothic doomed heroine; beautiful, vulnerable, descending into madness and darkness and near catatonia. Her meager attempts to regain some level of emotional balance, at recapturing and re-embracing the light, were soon dashed by the evil actions and reactions of Niles, who seemed to love her and loathe her, and definitely wished her harm.

Uta Hagen, a great actress of the Theatre, completed only three films; and a slew of television roles. In this one, she was very effective as a kind of Maria Ouspenskaya mid-European matriarch, with some kind of a dark past and considerable psychic abilities. She radiated love for her entire doomed family, but riddled with guilt for her part in all the machinations of plot, she was willing to sacrifice, to martyr herself, in order to stop the killings.

Ada: And when I came here and found this church, this angel (pointing to the angel on the stained glass window) became for me, The Angel of the Brighter Day, you see?
Niles: Do you still believe she will come?
Ada: Yes.
Niles: Will the angel come for me, when I die?
Ada: If you believe, then surely she will.

Later.
Ada: It was only a game. We were playing a game, Doushka, like all the other games that we play. Only the time has come for all the games to stop. It is wrong, you see? Dangerous.

As Ada was perched over the apple cellar door, with Niles hiding down in the sweet darkness, with her white hair long and flowing free, in her white nightgown, clutching the lantern, and she spread her arms and leaped into thin air, becoming the angel of retribution, the angel of death, it was as kinky and delicious twist that her sacrifice was to no avail; that Niles had given himself an escape route.

Victor French gave a fine performance in the small role of the farm handyman, Mr. Angelini [nice symbolism in the name]. He did well with his brief scenes, illustrating the frustration and lonliness of an emigrant in American in the Depression; a man forced to descend into drunkeness as a panecea or refuge; only to find himself dragged from his sweaty enebriated slumber and be accused of the murder of an infant; ala the Lindburgh case of that era. We witnessed racial prejudice, and insane mob rule as the family and the authorities leaped headlong to incorrect conclusions. John Ritter was adequate as the young son-in-law Rider, living in the Perry household with his pregnant wife. It, too, was a small role, but it hinted at Ritter's future talents.

The ironic and chilling ending hit all the significant chords of a horror contata. At the fade, on wondered who would be next on the adolescent death list? The film was both drama and horror in equal parts. Mulligan struck gold mining Tryon's dark tale.


I gave this movie a rating of 4 stars, worth the watch.
Glenn Buttkus
Teacher, Actor, Writer.