Robert Mulligan’s (To Kill a Mocking Bird) The Other cleverly disguises itself; a depression-era domestic tale of family on the farm masking an often gruelling psychological horror. Adapted by Tom Tryon from his own novel, The Other is an eclectic mix of dysfunction, the supernatural, and fractured psychologies, wrapped up in gorgeous Technicolor.
Slowly, Mulligan unveils a small community of characters who live and die the quiet life, hints of catastrophe are strewn throughout, near-playful reminders that this is a cursed “Sunday film”. Mulligan is at his best when pulling our wandering attentions back to the fact that this is a bizarrely sinister feature and nothing is as it seems. Brutal accidents and Freakshow ventures pop up to add a distinctly macabre flavour. Much of this comes from great visual and narrative framing, where the shots are specifically designed to construct this familiar setting of Tom Sawyer childhood, then tear it apart with dreadful child death.
Niles’ delicate mother (a disturbed turn from Diana Muldaur) is a picture of grief, a beautiful shut-in wrecked by the memories of 2 terrible tragedies, one moment delightful and matronly, the next hopelessly spiralling into a grief-craze. Uta Hagen appears as a harmless old Russian lady, a resident alien passing on mystical knowledge in the form of “The Game”, a process by which she helps Niles assume the point of view of any animal or person he wishes. Though not explicitly stated this perhaps allows Niles to become pray to his dead twin/imaginary friend’s terrible influence. Either way, Hagen steals the show in the final act.
The Other steadily works through supernatural intrigue until it arrives at violent retributions from beyond the grave. By keeping Niles a confused and alienated little boy, it becomes a pretty upsetting tale of psychological breakdown where, again, nothing is as it seems. Only in the last half hour does the film fully embrace its dark melodramatic touches to deliver an overwhelmingly nihilistic finale where the returning loved one becomes a sincere threat rather than a comfort. In this last segment, especially, the gorgeous cinematography takes a step into Night of the Hunter noir, keeping the shadows thick and sprawling, finding threat in every crook of the idyllic country atmosphere. Finally released on Blu-Ray the film looks better than ever.
A quiet, contained, feature that’s as much an essay on grief as it is childhood, Mulligan keeps his characters tight and his storytelling concise. There’s genuinely impressive turns from two child actors, a beautiful score, and some surprisingly macabre turns that will shock even today’s hardened viewers.
Dir. Robert Mulligan
Stars. Uta Hagen, Diana Muldaur, Chris Udvarnoky, Martin Udvarnoky, Victor French, John Ritter