Hang on there for a minute. Hear me out – there's a method to my madness...
Sometime in 1961, director Otto Preminger mounted his elaborate production of Allen Drury's best-selling novel of Washington politics, Advise and Consent. Heading the bravura cast was Charlton Heston – arguably then America's biggest male star.
Early into pre-production, Heston had an epiphany (even though he probably didn't know what that meant). Rather than portray Brig, the book's main character – he decided to “stretch,” and called a meeting with Otto.
“I'd like to try for Seeb,” announced the pompous future NRA activist and charioteer. Seeb was the wily ole Southern reprobate – what we would today call the Mitch McConnell role – already consigned to master thespian Charles Laughton.
Preminger laughed – thinking Chuck was joking. He wasn't, as Otto soon discovered – much to the detriment of his rising blood pressure and beet-color-turning pate.
Preminger called the actor every name under the sun, ending with the ultimate trump-the-chump cry (currently associated with a way less talented loudmouth), “You're fired!” Don Murray copped the part, and supporting player Henry Fonda had his name boosted to top bill the now lopsided picture which nevertheless became one of the highest-grossing movies of 1962, and one of Otto's greatest works.
Almost immediately after the Chuck-Amok debacle, Preminger signed Tom Tryon to an exclusive personal contract. Tryon's indentured servitude to Otto Preminger Productions is well-documented. It was a voyage into hell – resulting in the actor’s downward spiral into massive depression, thoughts of suicide and years of analysis.
I vividly recall one summer afternoon in 1963, when Otto's first Tryon pic The Cardinal was in general release. It was in the Catskills, on a Sunday – and the grownups were outside in lawn chairs reading the weekend papers. There was immense coverage on The Cardinal – as it was one of the year's major releases, glomming tremendous press and box office.
“Look at this,” exclaimed a friend's parent, “what a cast!” He pointed at a picture of a vestment-adorned Tryon addressing a crowd. “Besides Heston – there's Burgess Meredith, Romy Schneider...” and so on.
I knew that Heston wasn't in The Cardinal – even then, as a Bijou-addicted 9-year-old. But I said nothing.
Decades later, I was still perplexed by that case of mistaken identity – eventually realizing what the crafty autocratic filmmaker had done...even if he didn't know it himself. Otto Preminger had gotten his revenge on Charlton Heston by hiring a lookalike, whom he subsequently tortured. In effect, Preminger had taken the plot of Olsen & Johnson's classic anarchic 1943 comedy Crazy House – wherein the would-be movie producer/comedians make a picture with famous star's doubles to save money – and turned it into real-life horror.
I actually mentioned this to Preminger when I briefly became acquainted with him in the mid-1970s. Otto's facial reaction was one of “Are you insane?” And, since Preminger was never one for subtlety, he followed this visual expression with a bellowing bang-you-over-the-skull verbal response, of “Are you INSANE?!”
I then tried to calmly explain that Otto couldn't kill Heston – so he projected his vengeance on his double. I could tell this wasn't going to fly, so I simply reminded Preminger that Heston and Tryon had indeed played brothers in a 1956 Paramount western entitled Three Violent People.
At this, Otto raised his formidable eyebrows. “Really?”, he replied genuinely intrigued. “Maybe you did it subliminally?” I meekly added. Preminger's answer was rather cryptic, “It's too late now.” And that was that.
It WAS too late now for Tom Tryon who, after his near-death experience under the riding crop of Otto Preminger, left the business to recoup what was left of his sanity. He started to seriously consider writing professionally and in 1971 had his frightening novel The Other published to terrific acclaim. In 1972, 20th Century-Fox released the film version, scripted by co-producer Tryon and directed by Robert Mulligan; it too reaped a harvest of accolades and can now be appreciated by horror fans in a stunning limited edition Blu-Ray from Twilight Time in conjunction with 20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment.
Like Otto's strange experiment, THE OTHER is also about doubles – in this case a set of twins and their tumultuous summer in rural Pequod's Landing, CT. The boys, Niles and Holland, aged about eleven or twelve, seem to enjoy their youth like most boys pre-teen vacationers – with the marked exception that the latter plans to major in Serial Killing 101...should he ever survive to attend college. Niles, who covers for his evil twin whenever possible, finds it increasingly difficult to deal with the pint-sized psychopath...and soon drifts into a more rewarding relationship with his loving grandma Ada (the amazing Uta Hagen, who deservedly gets top-billing). With her help, Niles and Ada concoct “the game,” an out-of-body form of projection that allows the gifted sprout to fly with crows, positively create and nurture a bond between himself and his demented widowed mom Diana Muldaur. Unfortunately, it also makes him privy to the wacko behavioral patterns of his ever-increasing nut-job sib...which is where the story gets ultra-creepy, but also becomes a super fun night for viewers.
Now they've been evil twin movies before – most notably The Dark Mirror featuring Olivia de(ux) Havilland. Mulligan went one better and, to show both bros together, sans split-screen effects, acquired the real-life Udvarnoky boys, Chris and Martin. They are an authentically unsettling pair, resembling dual midget Brian Wilsons – particularly Holland, whose version of “In My Room” would be quite a nail-biter. Holland is obsessed with Bruno Hauptmann and covers his wall with juvenile drawings of his “idol.” In his brief tenure on planet Earth, Holland's superior sneering bratitude has already caused a number of not recommended time-out activities, including the torture and snuffing out of pets, obnoxious playmates, annoying neighbors and nosy parents...In short, he’s Patty McCormack’s Craig’s List dream date. One can only imagine the aspirations of the adult Holland – although the words “shutting down the government” do send a familiar shiver down my spine.
The picture, like Mulligan's duplicate famed depiction of childhood, To Kill a Mockingbird, takes place in the 1930s during the height of the Great Depression, except, of course, that THE OTHER is the Special Norman Bates Edition. Ironically, the two movies abound in double narrative plot-points, most prominently a tin canister/makeshift toy box containing treasured mementos, except in THE OTHER one of these artifacts is a human severed finger (it was the first time I actually saw Prince Albert in a can! Yay!). Other OTHER treats include an embryo, circus freaks, rodent infestation and proper homicidal usage of standard farm implements.
I must say that in 1972, I eagerly lined up to see this picture – but within twenty minutes figured out the entire scenario. Don't let that stop you from checking this B-D out, as one must remember that I'm a snarky bastard who always suspects the worst in everyone...Reading a lot of Robert Bloch helped too.
Speaking of writing, Tryon's script is really tight, and bristles with clues which make repeated viewings almost essential. Obviously a devout movie fan, Tryon has his characters flocking to theaters to see such oil-and-water (what else?) double-bills as Naughty Marietta and, more appropriately, Secret of the Blue Room.
Robert Surtees' flowing camera renders terrific results – especially in the swooping “flying” sequences and sinister nocturnal thunderstorm and barn segments. In '72, the grainy, peachy DeLuxe Color was a turn-off for me – but this new 1080p transfer (while still displaying some slight grain) is spectacularly crystal-clear and replicates some never-before-seen (at least by me) striking color visuals. The clean mono track features a cool score by Jerry Goldsmith which, like all Twilight Time platters, can be accessed as an IST (Isolated Score Track).
Mulligan's direction is truly first-rate – and should raise at least a couple of hundred goosebumps in size-placed order. Almost as unnerving is the original theatrical trailer, where the artist is heralded NOT as the director of the aforementioned To Kill a Mockingbird, but as the man responsible for Summer of '42! Now THAT'S scary!
I close with one final recollection of the Preminger incident. After inquiring as to whether or not I was insane, the quintessential Mr. Freeze shot me a sardonic grin and stated, “You know, you could say that if it wasn't for me, Mr. Tom Tryon would never have left the business...and become the best-selling author he is today.”
I bit my lip and nodded – exiting the green room of the WNEW-TV station where I was then employed (backing out while bowing, as one must do when in the presence of the God Complex-afflicted). I stood outside in the hallway and took a deep breath. Of all the gall, I thought – Otto Preminger was actually taking credit for Tom Tryon's success as a writer...and likely for The Other. Thinking about that last part now...I gotta admit – he was probably right.
THE OTHER. Color. Letterboxed [1.85:1 1080p High Definition]; Mono audio 1.0 DTS-HD MA. Twilight Time/20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment. SRP: $29.95.
Available exclusively through Screen Archives Entertainment [www.screenarchives.com].