Mulligan's Other Side
In the Summer of ’72, the esteemed director of the previous year’s hit romance Summer of ’42 presented another idyllically shot, rural-set, expertly cast period tale that might have passed for a Summer of ’35 reverie. But since it involved unimaginable horrors and came from the pen of actor-turned-bestselling novelist Thomas Tryon, Robert Mulligan’s film that opened this day 44 years ago was called The Other, and it continues to set spines tingling generations later. In fact, the filmmaker renowned for drawing exquisite performances from children and teens in To Kill a Mockingbird, Up the Down Staircase and Summer of ’42 prior to The Other, and Clara’s Heart and The Man in the Moon afterward was, with Tryon’s yarn, dealing from strength but with a different goal in mind: exploring the banal and often benign roots of family fragmentation, personality disorder and unchecked evil. Via the sensitively drawn performances of nonprofessionals Chris and Martin Udvarnoky as twin brothers Niles and Holland Perry, Mulligan revitalized the “evil child” screen subgenre occasionally represented before by The Bad Seed and the Village of/Children of the Damned duo but which would hit a peak just a year later with the devastatingly popular The Exorcist. But while some of these atypical children may have been alien-spawned or devil-possessed, The Other harkens back to the original The Bad Seed for its epic spectre: it’s in the genes, the family, the blood. As the slow reveal of dreaded secret behind a bad brother’s influence over a good brother’s behavior unfolds in the country setting of a New England farm during one lazy summer, one is easily seduced into a fairytale mood, even initially perceiving “the great game” grandmother Ada (film-debuting stage legend Uta Hagen) has taught Niles to mentally project himself out-of-body as a lyrical state, more magical than harmful. The arrival of a travelling carnival nearby heralds an occasion for innocent mischief and youthful wonder. But then the deaths start – and multiply in shocking succession – and you realize that the accumulation of period trappings, local color and directorial perspective has served a darker purpose. This ain’t The Waltons. “There are times when The Other’s taste and restraint may be a bit too prominent, times when scarier and more primal would have been a better choice,” critic Jay Carr wrote for TCM.com. “Still, as a piece of professional reinvention, it’s a success. The Other is never so muted that you fail to appreciate the creepy grip of this or that sinister detail tendrilling its way around a scene. Its hints of terrible things about to happen with worse to come, and its glossy production values make The Other a solid, intriguing outing.” Those glossy production values include alternately nostalgic and haunting cinematography by three-time Academy Award® winner Robert L. Surtees, period-precise production design by Albert Brenner and a sparely used but highly effective score by maestro Jerry Goldsmith. For a scintillatingly spooky way to spend one’s lazy summer days, Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray of The Other is available here: http://www.screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/25888/THE-OTHER-1972/.